History Begins in 2018
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort and the Kiawah Island Club - Cassique Course in South Carolina will host the first competition between junior golfers from South Carolina and Scotland for the Watson Cup in October, 2018. Return matches will take place in Scotland in July of 2020 and will be hosted by The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (founded 1744) at Muirfield in East Lothian, and by The Royal Burgess Golfing Society (founded 1735, and the oldest in the World) in Edinburgh.
Modeled after the Walker Cup matches that have been contested between amateur golfers from the US and Great Britain and Ireland since 1922, the Watson Cup matches are intended to celebrate the historic connection between South Carolina, where golf was first played in America in the 1740s, and the Edinburgh/East Lothian region of Scotland, from where equipment was first exported to the first American golfers in Charleston in 1739. The matches will also give South Carolina and Scottish juniors the opportunity to participate in the type of international team competitions so revered by amateur and professional golfers in the Walker, Ryder, and Presidents Cups, and to gain experience in the different skills required to play golf on each side of the Atlantic.
The cup for which the matches will be played is named in honor of Tom Watson, the American who won five Open Championships in Great Britain in the 1970s and 80s, including a win at Muirfield, Watson is widely regarded as the greatest American player of the game of links golf as it originated in Scotland. In addition to five Open Championships (one shy of the career record of six won by Englishman Harry Vardon), Watson also won two Masters, a US Open, and 70 other professional tournaments. Watson, who has strong ties to South Carolina including two victories at the Heritage tournament in Hilton Head and course designs such as the Cassique Course at Kiawah Island, was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1988.
The inaugural playing of the Watson Cup will be jointly conducted by the South Carolina Junior Golf Association and the East Lothian Junior Golf League, and in 2020, Edinburgh based juniors may also be involved.
SC Junior Golf Association Chairman Ben Zeigler began developing plans for the competition while attending a junior tournament in Gullane, Scotland in 2016. “I have always been interested in the golf connection between South Carolina and the Edinburgh/East Lothian area of Scotland, and was surprised that many Scots were completely unaware of it being the genesis of American golf,” Zeigler said. “At the same time, I was struck by how much the American juniors playing there had to learn from playing links golf, which is radically different from the game we play in America,” he added.
Zeigler, along with staff from the SCJGA, began working with David Warren, Secretary of the East Lothian Junior Golf League to make the matches a reality. “We were thrilled to have the opportunity to host South Carolina juniors in Scotland and to take our juniors to South Carolina. Playing the game in America is an important part of the development of our juniors, and we are delighted to celebrate the historic connection between two beautiful and hospitable places to play and enjoy the game,” Warren said. He also said, “That the visit to South Carolina by their juniors could not take place without generous donations and sponsorships by Dan Van Horn, the founder of US Kids Golf, Scotland’s Golf Coast, and hotdocs.com.” Warren added that historic documents relating to the golf connection between South Carolina and Edinburgh/East Lothian, including the shipping manifests, showing that golf equipment was exported to Charleston in 1739 will be on display during the 2020 matches. Additionally, Warren reports, that eight-time Ryder Cup participant and three-time Ryder Cup Captain Bernard Gallacher will be “Honorary President” for Scotland’s 2020 team.
According to SCJGA Senior Director Justin Fleming, the eight-member South Carolina squad will be established by the top four finishers in the boys 13-18 division at each of the 2018 Thomas D. Todd (Upper State) and Tommy Cuthbert (Lower State) All Stars Championships, which are held in August and are the culmination of the SCJGA’s Hootie & the Blowfish Junior Golf Series (Chapter Program). The 2020 team that will travel to Scotland will be similarly qualified. “We are particularly excited that the Watson Cup team will selected from the best players from our Hootie Series,” Fleming said. “To qualify for the Watson Cup team, a player will have to play his way to the top of his chapter, finish in the top two of that chapter’s tour championship, then finish in the top four of the All Stars tournament for that chapter’s region,” he added. “This will be a summer long quest that will play out over dozens of courses across South Carolina. It will be great for the juniors and great for the game of golf.”
Zeigler, who also serves as Chairman of the Watson Cup Committee, said naming the cup after Tom Watson is appropriate and important. “There is no one else we even considered,” he said. “Tom embodies everything we are hoping to highlight in this competition—sportsmanship, respect for tradition, and skill in golf on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition, as an American master of the Scottish links game, Tom represents a wonderfully circular symmetry in the transatlantic history of golf that runs from Edinburgh and East Lothian to Charleston and now back again.”
Watson says he is honored that his name will be on the Cup. “From the beginning of golf and with the advent of the first professionals in the middle 1800s, our game was played at match play with the top players, such as Allan Robertson and Old Tom Morris competing against others in epic matches, sometimes playing 20 rounds over 10 days to determine the winner. Continuing this match play tradition with the playing of the Watson Cup, as does the Walker, Ryder and President's Cups, will keep our game strong and vibrant.”
Ben Zeigler, Tom Watson and Biff Lathrop stand with the Watson Cup at the unveiling ceremony held in Augusta, GA.
Tournament Chairman: Ben Zeigler
Honorary Chairman: Pat McKinney
Committee: Bear Boyd, Paul T. Davis, Gary Edwards, Billy Hough, David Johnson, John Orr, Lee Palms, Charlie Rountree, III, Jay Self and Beau Welling