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Sunday, June 16, 2024

This amateur tour just brought 555 players to Myrtle Beach and has a growing area chapter

The player experience includes names and hometowns announced on the first tee, live scoring monitors, and marshals ensuring a good pace of play.

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Having your name and hometown announced on the first tee, live scoring monitors, and marshals ensuring a good pace of play.

These are some of the features of the Amateur Players Tour, which is in its sixth year and is looking to build on and expand a Myrtle Beach chapter.

The tour held its 2023 North American Championship, which is the season championship for all 42 of its chapters, Friday through Sunday on seven courses in the Myrtle Beach area.

The North American Championship had 555 players and a prize pool of approximately $50,000 that was awarded via Visa gift cards, making it the tour’s largest event ever.

“555 players, we’re really thrilled with that,” APT founder and CEO Matt Minder said. “It’s way over what our expectations were.”
Sunday’s championship round was played on TPC Myrtle Beach, and the other host courses were International World Tour Golf Links, Wild Wing Plantation, Myrtle Beach National’s King’s North and West courses, Myrtlewood’s Palmetto Course, and Burning Ridge Golf Club.

The top players from each flight qualified for the championship round, and a playoff to break ties for the final spots in all flights was held at the King’s North Course at 6 p.m. Saturday night. “It’s a fair way to do it and it’s a lot of fun to watch,” Minder said.

The tour has committed to bring its annual championship back to the Grand Strand in at least 2024.

Minder, 37, is a native and resident of Decatur, Illinois, who earned an accounting degree from a hometown college.

He followed his passion for golf, however, and attended the Golf Academy of America in Myrtle Beach in 2006-07, and he still has friends and acquaintances in the area.

“Myrtle Beach feels like home,” Minder said. “It’s pretty special to be back here this week to run our largest event we’ve ever run. So we’re excited to be committed to the beach for a long time.”

Minder said the great majority of the players on the tour have handicap indexes between 6 and 18.

“It’s just something they don’t get to experience anywhere else so it’s fun to get the nerves going and play in front of a bunch of people, and do it for a lot on the line,” Minder said. “. . . It’s just good for golf. You get people in and they get the bug.”

The Amateur Players Tour held its North American Championship at seven Myrtle Beach area courses last weekend.
The Amateur Players Tour held its North American Championship at seven Myrtle Beach area courses last weekend. (APT photo)

Creating, growing the tour

The tour has grown quickly.

Minder owned a digital marketing agency called YCN Media for a time. It was an offshoot of an internal audit software business called YCN Group that was operated by his father, Steve, who is now retired.

They created the Amateur Players Tour in 2018 in St. Louis, which is about a 90-minute drive from their homes in Decatur, and Minder is still that tour’s director. It was the APT’s only chapter for two years.

Minder essentially ran the tour out of a small SUV. One of the early purchases was a scoring tent, and he and a tour employee would drive it to and from events.

“To get the tent to fit in the SUV you had to push the passenger seat all the way up, so we’d take turns driving because you’d [barely] get leg room on the way,” Minder said. “It felt like you were selling jewelry out of your raincoat for a while there. Thankfully we’ve progressed past that a little bit, but it definitely started grassroots.”

Minder took from his experiences as a competitive amateur and professional mini-tour player to create a golf tour that he believed its members would enjoy and appreciate.

“I chased my dream playing golf, and I really just always embraced the experience,” Minder said. “The bigger event you’d show up to on the amateur circuit the better you were treated.

“So really the passion behind it was, being a player and being blessed to play in so many prestigious tournaments, we really wanted to take those experiences and give them to the everyday golfer. That’s really what led us to start it.”

Matt Minder is the founder and CEO of the Amateur Players Tour.
Matt Minder is the founder and CEO of the Amateur Players Tour. (Alan Blondin photo)

They added business partner Jody Barrett, a Tennessee state legislator and Nashville attorney, in 2020 to begin expanding, and hit the resurgence of golf nationwide that occurred during the coronavirus pandemic. Barrett utilized his many connections to recruit quality chapter directors in numerous markets.

“Covid was great for us,” Minder said. “All of my businesses got shut down, right. So we started working on this idea and dream that we had. We went from 180 members in St. Louis to about 3,500 in seven months.

“I think on Day 1 we launched eight chapters, and within another month we had close to 30. We were just really blessed. We set out to recruit some really good people . . . and we were able to expand really quickly.”

The tour has 40 chapters in the U.S. and two in Canada, is up to 5,250 members and holds more than 800 tournaments annually. It has added Phil Vangeersdaelen of Charlotte as another partner who serves as the tour’s director of operations. He had been a chapter director.

The tour motto is: By the players, for the players.

“We try to think that way,” Minder said. “We want to run tournaments the way I would want them run if I were a player. That is our guiding focus and it seems to be working. We’re really excited going forward.”

The tour has corporate support with presenting sponsor GlobalGolf based in Raleigh, N.C., and secondary sponsors Turtleson clothing, 2Undr underwear, Blue Tees Golf, and Avis/Budget car rental.

The tour’s primary charity is Folds of Honor Foundation, and Minder presented a check for approximately $85,000 during last weekend’s event.

The Amateur Players Tour held its North American Championship at seven Myrtle Beach area courses last weekend.
Players register for the Amateur Players Tour’s North American Championship at seven Myrtle Beach area courses last weekend. (Alan Blondin photo)

Players qualified for the North American Championship either through their local chapter or national events, which have been held at prestigious courses including Chambers Bay in Washington state, Streamsong in Florida and Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri.

The previous two North American championships were held in Pinehurst, N.C., where the final round was held on Pinehurst No. 2, and in Nashville, where last year’s final round was held at Hermitage Golf Course.

There is an upcoming national tournament in December at True Blue Golf Club and Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in Pawleys Island that is nearly sold out, and one in November at Dancing Rabbit in Mississippi.

“We’ve so far exceeded our own expectations, let alone the expectations of others, so for us the sky is the limit,” Minder said. “Our team is trying to keep our head down. We’re continuing to try to innovate and continuing to work hard and to be better, and really to stay hungry and see where it can go.”

The Amateur Players Tour held its North American Championship at seven Myrtle Beach area courses last weekend.
The Amateur Players Tour held its North American Championship at seven Myrtle Beach area courses last weekend. (APT photo)

The Myrtle Beach chapter

Jeff Helms became the Myrtle Beach chapter director in April, and said he has increased membership by about 30 percent to more than 140. “We want to have a 300-member tour,” Helms said.

Helms played mini tours for five years including the Hooters Tour before injuring his back in 2000. He owns an industrial cleaning equipment sales company and his wife has a wedding venue.

His home is outside Charlotte but he has owned a residence on the Grand Strand for 12 years and spends most of his time here.

Helms played on the Amateur Players Tour in Charlotte and Myrtle Beach before becoming the chapter director, and in the 1990s he was involved in starting local amateur tours.

“I’ve played golf at a level that a lot of golfers will never experience,” Helms said. “To be able to bring that to them for them to see how a tournament or tour is run, that’s what makes me feel good.”

The tour costs $125 to join and 18-hole events are generally between $100-$145, while two-day 36-hole tournaments are generally $225-$350. Events include optional skins competitions.

The Myrtle Beach chapter’s 2023-24 schedule will be released this week and consist of about 25 tournaments, with the first on Oct. 21. 

Players can register for the tour or get more information by contacting Helms at 843-238-7105 or jeffhelms@aptgolf.org. The tour has a website and the Myrtle Beach chapter has a Facebook page.

The Amateur Players Tour held its North American Championship at seven Myrtle Beach area courses last weekend.
The Amateur Players Tour held its North American Championship at seven Myrtle Beach area courses last weekend. (Alan Blondin photo)

Focusing on player experience

How is the tour and Myrtle Beach chapter player-friendly?

“The biggest thing is organization, making it easy and embracing technology,” Minder said.

Each event has a lot of tour signage, a registration desk adorned with trophies, a rules sheet, live scoring monitors, marshals for pace of play, and complimentary snacks, water and Gatorade.

Minder said course setup is meticulously done to ensure, for instance, senior flights don’t have unreasonable carries.

Players are announced on the first tee. “Making it important,” Minder said.

Players receive discounts or merchandise from tour sponsors.

Members can play in any event across the country.

A committee analyzes handicaps weekly and keeps an internal handicap index based on tournament scores. “There is no sandbagging. When you show up to play at a tournament it’s truly against people of your skill level,” Minder said.

“All of those seem like little things . . . but they really make a huge difference in how a tournament experience feels.”

The Amateur Players Tour held its North American Championship at seven Myrtle Beach area courses last weekend.
The Amateur Players Tour held its North American Championship at seven Myrtle Beach area courses last weekend. (Alan Blondin photo)

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