A college golf atmosphere for seniors: U.S. Senior Challenge at Kingsmill offers something different

At the end of May, team golf got its annual moment in the spotlight as the NCAA men’s and women’s national championships were broadcast over two weeks on Golf Channel. Mike Quinlan, executive director of the U.S. Senior Challenge, wants to note the connection between those tournaments and what’s about to happen at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia, next week.

“What we’re trying to model now is this is exactly like a college tournament, just like everybody watched on TV where you have teams playing against each other and also at the same time, you’re vying to be the individual champion of the tournament,” Quinlan said.

Outside of two-man best-ball tournaments, the U.S. Senior Challenge, to be played June 4-6, is one of very few opportunities a senior amateur has to compete in a national team competition. State teams are made up of four individuals, with the best three scores counting toward the team total in each of three rounds. While one team champion is crowned, individual champions will be named in each of four age divisions: senior, super senior, legends and super legends. World Amateur Golf Ranking points are also awarded.

The format, Quinlan said, is exactly what makes the U.S. Senior Challenge such an interesting draw for competitive senior amateurs.

“My belief is that this event is super unique,” he said. “You can sort of relive your college glory days and travel with three other guys on your team and have a really fun week, because even if you did really poorly one day, you’re always wanting to be part of that team score, to have one of the low three scores.”

Part of the reason for the void in amateur team golf on the national level has to do with the discontinuation of the U.S. Golf Association’s State Team Championship in 2017. That tournament, which featured three-person teams from each state, however, was not just for seniors.

The U.S. Senior Challenge dates to the mid-1980s but has matured into its current format. The Sun Country Amateur Golf Association, in cooperation with the U.S. Senior Challenge Board of Directors and Golfweek, handles tournament operations, and the event is elevated by a dedicated USGA Boatwright Intern from the SCAGA.

Quinlan’s involvement increased in 2016, when former executive director Jim Bianco was looking to pass the torch. Quinlan, who had been heavily involved in the board of the directors, picked it up. The Albuquerque, New Mexico, resident helped bring in the SCAGA, his local state golf association.

“When we took over, Jim actually had two tournaments, he had the team and the individual event,” Quinlan said. “When we took it over, we combined the two into the college-kind of format because we really didn’t have an interest, No. 1, in running two events and No. 2, there were so many individual events that the unique part of this is that college-kind of format where you’re both playing as a team and individuals.”

State flags fly at a past U.S. Senior Challenge. (Photo courtesy Sun Country Amateur Golf Association)
State flags fly at a past U.S. Senior Challenge. (Photo courtesy Sun Country Amateur Golf Association)

State flags fly at a past U.S. Senior Challenge. (Photo courtesy Sun Country Amateur Golf Association)

Teams are formed by a state captain representing participating states (participation, Quinlan notes, varies from year to year depending on where the tournament is played geographically). Some state captains recruit their state’s top players – for example, Quinlan remembers when Arkansas won the team title in 2019 and the state team included brothers Stan Lee and Louis Lee, who had both won U.S. Senior Amateur titles, in 2007 and 2011, respectively.

Sometimes, however, it becomes more of a buddies’ trip. In other cases, teams may not meet until they show up for the practice round. That’s because individuals who are not part of their state’s team can also compete in the tournament, and organizers work to group them into teams from the same state, when possible, or regionally. In this year’s field, almost a third of the 19 teams were formulated that way.

“The longtime captains, they really understand the format well and they’re probably more modeled together as a team versus these people who show up on the first tee and meet for the first time,” Quinlan said.

Quinlan, who captains a New Mexico team and will also play in the event, said the largest U.S. Senior Challenge team field featured 20 teams from 20 different states. He hopes the event continues to gain momentum.

“There’s just never been something like this for seniors and I think going forward it’s a big advantage for us to have the premier team event in the United States.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek