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      World Am tournament swings back up to bigger number

      The World Amateur Handicap Championship is back in Myrtle Beach this week, with thousands of players teeing up at dozens of courses.

      Organizers say the tournament is seeing a rebound in participation this year.

      More than 3,100 golfers have signed up to play the World Am, about 200 more than last year and the most since 2008.

      Also, golfers from more than 20 countries will play the tournament, including the first-ever group from China.

      Golf is a fast-growing sport in that country, and World Am organizers say Myrtle Beach can take advantage of that.

      "Certainly their economy's doing very well there, there's a burgeoning golf industry there, so we have an opportunity," said Bill Golden of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday. "It's a long way to get here, but once they're here, they love the destination from what we're hearing, so we're excited about that."

      Golden said building participation in the World Am, especially among international players, is all about working on relationships.. not just by phone or email, but face to face.

      That strategy may be working. Golden said there's an influx of first-time participants this year.

      "A 25 percent increase with new players this year over last year, which I think speaks to the product. That's people who have been here, telling their golf buddies, telling their friends and family to come."

      Many World Am players say relationships are also a big part of why they keep coming back year after year.

      "I played with two great guys today, I mean we just had a blast and when you do that for four days, it just makes it all worthwhile," said Ron Toussaint of Calabash, NC, who's played the tournament every year since 2000.

      "Mostly the comradery," added Dan McClelland of Athens, OH. "The people, and looking forward to seeing the people you've played with all the years."

      Twelve years ago, the World Am attracted more than 5,000 players.

      Interest in the game has diminished since then and Golden isn't sure it can get back to that number again, but he says they're seeing steady growth and 4,000 players is doable as a goal for future years.