Although falling leaves and crisp temperatures suggest the end of the season, nine events remain on the SCGA’s schedule, a statistic that tells how much the game has grown in South Carolina.
“When I started (1977), we had about 10 regular tournaments, five one-days and nothing for juniors,” SCGA executive director Happ Lathrop said. “We finished (tournament play) in August and had nothing after Labor Day. Now, there’s no end to all the competition.”
That’s the way he likes it.
From a staff of two — Lathrop running tournaments and wife Joyce taking care of the scoreboard — the SCGA staff has grown along with the myriad of tournaments. Bennett Jordan soon will become the 11th person on the payroll and will work to emphasize the golf-in-schools program.
Like the USGA and PGA of America, the SCGA focuses on growth of the game, and Lathrop senses “more optimism around our member clubs.”
The SCGA looks to get youngsters involved, and staff members made presentations to more than 6,000 students during the school year. More opportunities will be made in the future using a program called SNAG — Start New at Golf.
“Very colorful with different terminology,” Lathrop said. “It’s something that helps young people learn more about the game.”
Highlights from this year include: Another Walker Cup player, Hilton Head Island High history instructor Todd White; two graduates of the state junior program — Bill Haas and Dustin Johnson — ranking among the top PGA Tour performers; and a number of players qualifying for USGA national competition.
Among those USGA qualifiers:: USC golfers Matt NeSmith (North Augusta) and Will Starke (Chapin), and Clemson player Carson Young (Pendleton). They earned spots for the U.S. Amateur.
Qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Amateur included high school stars Lauren Stephenson (Lexington) and Kelli Murphy (Lugoff-Elgin); and college freshmen-to-be Katelyn Dambaugh (Goose Creek/USC), McKenzie Talbert (North Augusta/Clemson) and Ashlan Ramsey (Milledgeville, Ga./Clemson).
In addition, 14 players with South Carolina connections — nine from the state’s junior program — earned places on the 2013-14 PGA Tour that began this weekend in California. Johnson, Haas and Scott Brown won PGA Tour tournaments last season, and Ben Martin, Mark Anderson and Kevin Kisner captured Web.com Tour victories.
“A lot of good things,” Lathrop said in summing up the year.
“Although we had a lot of rain in June and July, we did not lose many tournament playing days, and we have more and more outstanding players. Our goal for the future is to add to the number of golfers, and we think we’re headed in the right direction by reaching out more and more to young people.
“It’s a whole lot different from when I started.”
Stephenson (Lexington) and Riley Lovorn (Anderson) combined for a record-breaking 129 to win the girls’ 14-18 bracket in the SCJGA’s Tradition Four-Ball at Pebble Creek in Taylors. The Columbia team of Jack Parrott and Ryan Marter won the boys’ 13-14, and Josh Fickes (Beaufort) and Andrew Orischak (Hilton Head Island) captured the boys’ 15-18 title. ...
The LeRoy Walker Memorial tourney that benefits the Benedict College athletic program will be Friday at Crickentree. For information or to enter, call (803) 705-4501. ...
Golfweek named USC junior Caleb Sturgeon the player of the week after he led the Gamecocks to a 24-stroke win in the Badger Invitational. He captured medalist honors at 10-under-par for the three rounds. ...
The Spartanburg duo of Andrew Hewitt and Tyler Maccolly won the SCGA’s Players Four-Ball title at Columbia CC. ...
After losing rights to televise USGA events, the NBC Sports Group secured broadcast rights for the PGA of America’s Ryder Cup and Senior PGA Championship through 2030. ...
Mike Weiner (Kiawah Island) won the SCGA’s Super Seniors tourney at Florence CC. ...
Pinehurst Resort and CC president Don Padgett will retire Oct. 1, 2014, and will be succeed by current executive vice-president Tom Pashley. Pinehurst will stage both the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens in June.