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Local Sports

Sun 'n Lake hosts pro qualifier

Published:   |   Updated: March 12, 2013 at 05:04 PM

There have been many great golf stars from Latin America such as Roberto De Vicenzo, Angel Cabrera, Jhonattan Vegas and Camillo Villegas.

The dreams of glory treasured by a new generation of Latin American golfers will now be powered by the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, which will hold a four-day qualifier at Sun 'n Lake Country Club.

The event begins with a practice round for the 130 competitors on Feb. 11 and the four-day qualifier runs Feb. 12-15 on the demanding Deer Run course.

"We're very proud to be hosting this qualifier," said Sun 'n Lake golf pro Andy Kesling. "It's a big event and our golf course continues to get better and this is a step in the right direction for us. There'll be PGA Tour-caliber players qualifying and it's great exposure for the golf course now that we're on the PGA's website.

"It's a tribute to our golf course to be chosen to host this event and we hope to get some bigger and better tournaments here to help us make a name for ourselves."

Tom Hunt, who is a golf club expert and follows the Tour, helped to bring this event to Sun 'n Lake.

"Tom goes along with the Tour and he helped us get a leg in the door," Kesling said. "They came down and were impressed with our golf course and we got the event."

Most of the 130 qualifiers are American, with Peru also hosting a qualifier in South America.

"Our qualifier has mostly Americans because there are two different events," Kesling said. "Doral Country Club hosted this event last year, and they decided to change the venue and we're thrilled to be part of this."

On this potential highway to the higher levels of professional golf, the PGA Tour Latinoamerica members will have the opportunity earn points for the Official World Golf Rankings.

These points could help the region's players qualify for the 2016 Olympic golf competition.

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, the first to ever be hosted by a South American nation, have been one of the main motivations behind the PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

The return of golf to the Olympic program for the first time in more than 100 years has created unprecedented interest by local and international organizations in order to give golf a boost throughout the region.

With the Olympic flame three years away, the time seems right for the Tour to have an impact and get many more Latin Americans involved in the game.

"This is one of the main reasons we created this series," said PGA Tour Latinoamerica President Jack Warfield. "There are some talented players out there and they just need a little more structure and guaranteed playing opportunities so they are prepared for the demands of the higher levels of golf.

"The core of the professional game in Latin America is solid, but there is room for substantial growth in the next few years and we hope to be a part of that process."

Many of the 130 players will be staying in hotels and eating in the restaurants in Highlands County during the week of qualifying, which should be a real boon to the local economy.

"The players will be here for five days and there's no doubt this event is going to be good for the local economy," Kesling said. "This is great exposure for Sun 'n Lake and Highlands County, and hopefully it will make people want to come here and see what we have to offer."

The top five players from the PGA Tour Latinoamerica money list will receive Tour membership for 2014. The top 60 players on the money list will be fully exempt for the 2014 PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

There is no admission fee for spectators to attend the qualifier.

"We invite everyone to come out and watch some really talented players compete on a demanding, well-conditioned golf course," Kesling said. "We're looking forward to hosting a great week of golf."