Latin America Amateur Championship: All You Need To Know

As the ninth Latin America Amateur Championship gets underway in Panama this week, we look at the event in more detail.

Latin America Amateur Championship: All You Need To Know
LAAC Trophy
(Image credit: LAAC)

This week sees the ninth running of the Latin America Amateur Championship to be held at Santa Maria Golf Club in Panama.

The winner of the event will earn an invitation to compete in the 2024 Masters, a start in the 152nd Open Championship at Royal Troon, and a start in the 124th US Open at Pinehurst Resort and CC.

The background

Founded by The R&A, The Masters and The USGA, the Latin America Amateur Championship, or LAAC, was inaugurated with a view to developing the game in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

It followed the success of the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) that has been run since 2009 by The R&A and The Masters, together with the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation.

That event has proved hugely effective in growing the game in the Asia Pacific region, producing inspirational champions like Hideki Matsuyama.

The incredible prizes on offer at the LAAC have, in just eight years of its existence, inspired and incentivised players and federations in the region to focus their efforts and develop their elite programmes.

Since it was first contested in Buenos Aires in 2015, the 72-hole strokeplay tournament has produced great champions and a number of top players.

Joaquin Niemann of Chile who won the LAAC in 2018 on home soil in Santiago, is perhaps the best-known graduate.

Others to have played in the event include Sebastian Munoz, Mito Pereira and Alvaro Ortiz.

There have now been 24 victories by former LAAC players on the PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour Americas.

The prizes

The prizes

The Prizes at the LAAC

(Image credit: LAAC)

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to compete in the 2024 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club and  will automatically qualify for The 152nd Open at Royal Troon and, for the second time, will earn a spot in the US Open - the 124th instalment of which will take place at Pinehurst.

The winner also receives full exemptions into The 129th Amateur Championship, U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible.

Runner(s)-up will be exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The 152nd Open and the 124th U.S. Open Championship.

The vision

The LAAC is just one element of The R&A’s extensive and on-going work to promote and grow the sport of golf around the world.

The move in 2020 to offer the champion a place in The Open (as with the AAC) demonstrated how the event has grown and evolved in a relatively short space of time.

This year’s event will feature 108 players from 28 different countries in the Latin America region.

That region extends from Mexico through Central America, including the Caribbean, and down to South America. Host country Panama has seven representatives this year with Brazil, Argentina and Colombia represented by eight entrants.

The importance of the event in developing talent is demonstrated by the fact that no fewer than 65 of the 108 starters are either past, present or future students at U.S Colleges.

The youngest player in the field this year is 14-year-old Gustavo Ciacometti from Brazil. The oldest is Costa Rica's Alvaro Ortiz who is 55. Ortiz is one of just three players who have competed in each of the first eight instalments of the LAAC. The others are Jarryd Dillas of Bermuda and Miguel Ordonez of this year's host nation Panama. 

This will be the second time Panama has played host to the LAAC. The first time was in 2017, when the event was staged at Clube de Golf de Panama.

The course for 2024

Santa Maria GC

Santa Maria Golf Club, Panama

(Image credit: LAAC)

A creation of Nicklaus Design, the course at Santa Maria offers striking views of the city skyline. Opened in 2012, it's a par-72, 7,153 yard track. It's a parkland track that has played host to a number of significant junior competitions in its short lifetime. The greens are testing, featuring a number of tricky undulations but it's the water features that probably provide the most significant protection. A number of holes are potected by lakes. Those that aren't tend to be well bunkered. It will be a precise and strategic approach that wins out this week.

History of the LAAC

The inaugural LAAC was won, in 2015, by Chile’s Matias Dominguez at Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Matias Dominguez

Matias Dominguez

The 22-year-old senior at Texas Tech University carded a four-round total of 11-under-par to finish one ahead of home player Alejandro Tosti.

The following year, over Pete Dye’s Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, 16-year-old Paul Chaplet from Costa Rica was the winner.

Paul Chaplet wins Latin America Amateur

Paul Chaplet wins 2016 Latin America Amateur

He held his nerve coming down the stretch to beat Venezuela’s Jorge Garcia by a single shot.

2017 saw the first and, so far, only playoff in the LAAC. It was Chile’s Toto Gana who came out on top at Club de Golf de Panama.

Toto Gana wins Latin America Amateur Championship

Toto Gana wins 2017 Latin America Amateur Championship

The 19-year-old defeated his countryman Joaquin Niemann and Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz at the second extra hole.

Although disappointed to miss out in extra holes, both Niemann and Ortiz would have their days.

It was Niemann who triumphed 12-months later at the Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago.

The 2018 champion, Joaquin Niemann

The 19-year-old became the third Chilean player in the first four years of the LAAC to take the title.

Niemann has gone on to enjoy significant success in the professional ranks.

A winner on the PGA Tour, he played in the 2019 Presidents Cup and is now on the LIV Golf Tour.

Alvaro Ortiz receives the trophy

In 2019 the LAAC returned to the Dominican Republic where Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz scored a deserving win.

It was his fifth and final appearance in the championship and he signed off in style with a two-shot win over Costa Rica’s Luis Gagne.

Ortiz became the first LAAC winner to make the cut in The Masters three months later and he then went on to turn professional.

Abel Gallegos

Abel Gallegos

(Image credit: LAAC)

In 2020, 17-year-old Abel Gallegos became Argentina's first LAAC champion. He posted an excellent final round of four-under-par 67 to win by four shots at Playa del Carmen in Mayakoba, Mexico. Conditions were tough for the week and Gallegos was the only player to beat par over 72 holes.

The Covid crisis meant no tournament was contested in 2021 but in 2022 the event returned for a third time to the Teeth of the Dog Course in the Dominican Republic.

Aaron Jarvis

Aaron Jarvis

(Image credit: LAAC)

In that event, 19-year-old Aaron Jarvis made history by becoming the first player from the Cayman Islands to win, and to compete in both The Masters and The Open Championship.

Jarvis held his nerve to finish one clear of a group of four players. It was quite a triumph for a player from a nation of just 70,000 people with just 27 golf holes on the three islands.

Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira

Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira

(Image credit: LAAC)

Last year in Puerto Rico, Argentina's Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira set a 72-hole scoring record of 23-under-par to finish four clear of Mexico's Luis Carrera. The University of Arkansas student had volunteered as a scoreboard carrier in the first ever LAAC at Pilar Golf Club in Buenos Aires. It was a great demonstration of how the event has inspired young players to excel at the sport.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?