A Cherry on Top

U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills sets a new standard for the event.

by Jon Rizzi

After three years of preparation and seven days of competitive golf, the 123rd U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club is history.

With the final jewel now firmly set in the club’s 2022-23 “triple crown”—a 100th anniversary celebration, renovated clubhouse opening and hosting the U.S. Amateur—members can reclaim their lockers, return to their regular games and once again find their ProV1s in the rough.

The 123rd Amateur also made history, producing the only champion not named Tiger Woods to have also won the U.S. Junior Amateur.

Nick Dunlap’s Sunday performance against a determined Neal Shipley is one of the most inspiring in recent memory. The 19-year-old from Alabama poured in 12 birdies—including a backbreaker on the 27th hole to maintain a 3-up lead—and refused to relent, winning 4 and 3 on the 33rd hole.

The course and setup were phenomenal. The 100-year-old par-71 course acquitted itself with distinction as both a brilliant stroke- and match-play layout, with the average score in the stroke play of 75.4 (4.4 over par) and three toughest overall holes coming at Nos. 18, 15 and 14.

The legendary par-4 closer produced the highest scoring average relative to par (4.65), fewest birdies (16) and highest number of double bogeys or higher (51). The par-3 15th, the hole on which the match ended, yielded the most above-par scores (188), as well as the highest number of bogeys (143).

The fact that 12,298 attended made the championship even more special. Preliminary reports put ticket-sale revenue at more than four times that of the $46,000 generated by last year’s championship at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

“Have we every had a U.S. Amateur that was better attended?” USGA President Fred Perpall rhetorically asked at the post-tournament reception. (Jon Rizzi)

The Lasting Legacy

From Left: Championship Chair Jim Hillary, USGA President Fred Perpall, Palmer Scholarship recipient Ella Kerrigan and Palmer Scholarship trustee David Packer. Photo by Jon Rizzi

The legacy of the 123rd U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills differs from its historical significance but carries an even greater value.

That legacy will be embodied by the thousands of young men and women whose lives will be touched by the efforts of the Cherry Hills membership to leverage a tournament that, as Championship Chair Jim Hillary put it, “will change the trajectory of a young man’s life.”

From left: Evans Scholars Foundation representative George Solich, Championship Chair Jim Hillary and USGA President Fred Perpall pose with the donation check. Photo by Jon Rizzi

Sixty-nine years ago, Arnold Palmer was that young man. He would never have won the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills—an event that put the course on the map—had he not captured the 1954 U.S. Amateur, a victory he called the “turning point” in his career.

To create “turning points” in the lives of youth in the community, a pavilion in the pool area featured the Junior Experience, where during Amateur week more than 2,000 kids participated in golf lessons; heard about youth golf programs and careers in golf; experienced golf-themed STEM activities; and learned about scholarships and the many doors the game can open.

From left: USGA President Fred Perpall, First Tee-Green Valley Ranch Chair David Simon, First Tee-Green Valley Ranch alumnus Davis Bryant and Championship Chair Jim Hillary. Photo by Jon Rizzi

Big Checks

On a larger scale, Hillary initially enlisted the support of 33 Cherry Hills members—“friends of the championship,” he called them—to kick-start the club’s fundraising to benefit organizations that would have a meaningful impact on the lives of young people across Colorado. Ultimately, 77 percent of the membership financially supported the the U.S. Amateur charitable initiative, and more than 800 members and family members volunteered at the championship.

Additionally, the club received generous grants from the Daniels Fund and Ball Foundation, as well as contributions from other private donors.

This ambitious philanthropic campaign enabled Hillary to present on behalf of the club checks of $500,000 apiece to the Evans Scholars Foundation, Cherry Hills Palmer Scholarship Foundation and Colorado’s First Tee Chapters.

Receiving the donation check on behalf of the Evans Scholars Foundation, Cherry Hills and Castle Pines Golf Club member George Solich spoke of the caddie scholarship, which more than 40 years ago sent him to the University Colorado and changed his life.

“This gift,” he said, “will change the lives of really high-performing, financially needy caddies all over the country but particularly here in Colorado.”

Solich, who with his brother and fellow Evans alum Duffy started the Solich Leadership and Caddie Academy, noted that since 1967 54 Cherry Hills caddies have received full-ride Evans Scholarships, 14 of them since 2019. Nationwide, 1,130 Evans Scholars currently attend 24 universities.

“We are the top-giving club in the U.S. to the Evans Scholarship,” he said, “and our aim is to have 1,500 kids in school by 2030.”

Cherry Hills member David Packer, a trustee of the club’s Palmer Scholarship—which since 2001 has provided scholarships to club employees—said this gift eclipsed the $350,000 the club had this year provided for the scholarship. “Our club is proud to support educational goals of those who make Cherry Hills such a wonderful place,” he said, “and we love to see them leave the nest and have success.”

Dave Simon, chair of First Tee-Green Valley Ranch, accepted on behalf of the organization, one of three Colorado chapters that will share the donation.

In all three cases, a beneficiary of the program—Evans Scholar Kathryn Costello, Palmer Scholar Ella Kerrigan and First Tee Green Valley Ranch alum Davis Bryant (who competed in this year’s Amateur)— joined the representative receiving the check and told of her or his gratitude.

What’s Next?

“The USGA has enjoyed a long history with Cherry Hills,” USGA President Fred Perpall said at the check presentation. “The club represents all that is good in championship golf, but it also represents all that is good in golf in general—this notion that as a community everything that is happening inside these gates that is good should spread outside these gates … We know that the Evans Scholars Foundation, the Palmer Scholarship and the First Tee will continue to do good work and create more leaders for the future because of your efforts.”

The donations, just like the attendance, represented a landmark in the history of the U.S. Amateur. This certainly could point to another major USGA championship coming to the club. With all but seven U.S. Open sites locked in until 2051, the earliest one could arrive is 2036. That same year is the earliest available U.S. Women’s Open.

The 2028 U.S. Amateur could also be a possibility. That’d be square between years in which The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs will host its third and fourth U.S. Senior Opens, and it would be the fourth U.S. Amateur for Cherry Hills.

Five years from now might be too soon. Then again…

Colorado AvidGolfer Magazine is the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it, publishing eight issues annually and proudly delivering daily content via coloradoavidgolfer.com.

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