Providing life-changing opportunities is what the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) is all about. The champion of the most televised amateur event in the game, which gets underway in Hong Kong on Thursday, receives an invitation to the Masters Tournament and, along with the runner-up, gains entry to The Open Qualifying Series for The Open at Royal Troon. There might not be any prize money to be played for – that is reserved strictly for the likes of former AAC champion-turned PGA Tour star Hideki Matsuyama and his professional brethren – but the opportunity to play on two of the greatest stages in the game is priceless.
The opportunities provided by the AAC extend beyond the elite field – which comprises players from 37 countries – however.
For Peter Downie, the General Manager and Director of Golf at Clearwater Bay, the championship represents the opportunity to put his club – and Hong Kong itself – on the world’s golfing map.
Located on a rugged peninsula overlooking the South China Sea, a mere 40-minute drive from the skyscraper-dominated Central district of this Far Eastern financial hub, Clearwater Bay is impressive by anyone’s reckoning. Often described as Asia’s answer to Pebble Beach, the spectacular opening stretch of this par-70 layout is routed hard by the water’s edge, while the back nine, sited on higher ground, provides elevation change and stunning coastal and city views aplenty. It is, in the words of one competitor who saw the course for the first time on Monday, “jaw-droppingly beautiful.”
“Clearwater Bay has never had this kind of platform before, so for us the championship is very much our ‘Hello, world’ moment,” says Downie, a 53-year-old Scot who was born and raised just a few miles from Muirfield, the heralded Open venue. “The course is breathtaking; people come here and are startled. They don’t believe somewhere like this can exist in a city like Hong Kong. This week’s exposure – the global TV coverage and everything else that comes with it – will put us on the map. It gives us a chance to showcase Hong Kong in an entirely different light.”
Much work has gone into getting Clearwater Bay prepared to championship standard. New tees have been added to six holes in addition to the implementation of a year-long maintenance programme that has resulted in first-class playing surfaces. The restaurant in the clubhouse has also been expanded to accommodate more guests and features floor-to-ceiling windows offering stunning panoramic views of the front nine.
“We knew we had to bring the golf course to a condition that would be accepted by players of this calibre and we’re really happy with what has been delivered,” continues Downie. “The process has been a great exercise for us to take the club to the next level, which is of benefit for the tournament but also our members going forward.”
At a shade over 6,600 yards, Clearwater Bay can’t be considered long by modern standards. The challenge for the players, says Downie, is being able to cope with the winds that blow through this most scenic of venues.
“This isn’t a bomber’s course; those who can plot their way around and keep their ball down in the breeze will likely reap the rewards,” he says. “But having said that, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the course record of 64 – which was set by Asian Tour player Unho Park earlier this year – bettered this week. When you have this many quality players on show, you come to expect great things.”