In its six-year existence, the World Club Championship has evolved into one of the most hotly contested competitions in amateur golf. In 2008, it rose to a whole new level.
It took six holes of sudden death at Beijing’s Reignwood Pine Valley Golf Club, amid more moonlight than sunshine, but as daylight faded, New Jersey’s Pine Valley edged Australia’s Royal Melbourne to claim the coveted crown. It was the final match after the weeklong match-play competition between 24 clubs from GOLF Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Courses in the World. To be eligible for selection, a course nominates its club champion, who then selects a partner. Both must carry handicaps of 3 or better. The way the teams from Pine Valley and Royal Melbourne buzzed through the final holes, you could have thrown handicaps out the window. These guys played like they belonged on the Presidents Cup teams.
To take home the Jay H. Lee Trophy as Champions of the 2008 World Club Championship, Pine Valley’s team of Chris Lange and current club champion Bill McGuinness outdueled England’s Royal Birkdale in the round of 16, Florida’s Seminole in the quarterfinals and Canada’s St. George’s in the semis, when Lange birdied the island-green, par-3 17th to clinch a 2-and-1 win.
The Reignwood Pine Valley Golf Club, which sits within sight of the Great Wall and which served as host club for the event, featured a Jack Nicklaus design that practically ensured match-play excitement down the stretch. The 15th is a drivable par-4, the 16th is a reachable par-5, the 17th is an island-green par-3 and the 18th is a demanding par 4. The final match extracted every ounce of drama from these holes.
Royal Melbourne club champion James McMillan and his partner Dr. Nick Wilton arrived at the 15th hole all square with Pine Valley, but they exited 1 up after McMillan holed a bunker shot for an eagle 2. His counterpart from Pine Valley, Bill McGuinness, rifled his second shot at the par-5 16th to a foot, for a conceded eagle that leveled the match. At the dangerous par-3 17th, Royal Melbourne made birdie to grab a slender lead but lost it at the 18th when Pine Valley birdied. As the light faded and the moon emerged during the playoff, reading putts became problematic. At the 24th hole, Royal Melbourne’s McMillan saw his short putt to tie slip by. It was the longest final in tournament history.
Few thought anything could top Sunningdale’s five-hole playoff win over Pine Valley for the 2007 title at Korea’s Nine Bridges. It took just one year.
Losing finalist Dr. Nick Wilton of Royal Melbourne summarized the week: “From the moment we boarded the Air China flight to Beijing, the experience was life-changing. Simply stated, the WCC is one of the finest amateur golf events in the world.”
In 2009, ,the event will return to Korea’s Nine Bridges.