The PGA of America launched its PGA Junior League concept nationwide this year with a goal of getting youngsters ages 8-13 more involved with golf, and early returns have shown positive results.
Some Columbia-area kids particularly like the idea: They will represent the state of South Carolina in the program’s regional competition next weekend in St. Augustine, Fla., with the winner advancing to the nationals in Atlanta in September.
Top players from the Columbia league’s regular-season competition — Dillon Hite, Bronson Myers, and Logan Biggers (Par Tee Golf Center), Alec Vardas, Sully Hooper and Isabella Rawl (Country Club of Lexington), Parks Hutto and Matthew Hutto (Northwoods Golf Club), and Ford Reynolds and Wyatt Pierce (Forest Lake Club) — make up the squad.
“They’re excited, and we’re excited,” said Tom Mason, the PGA pro who operates Par Tee Driving Range and joins parent Kemp Hooper in working with the all-stars. “They will be at the World Golf Hall of Fame, play the Slammer and the Squire course and will have a great experience.”
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Six teams — two from Florida, two from Georgia, one from South Carolina and one from North Carolina — will be in the regional, and each squad will play three matches. Each match is nine holes and played at approximately 2,500 yards in a captain’s choice format.
“It’s a great initiative, a nice bridge from beginning golf to advancing to those who might want to compete in state-wide junior competition,” Mike Casto, general manager at Fort Jackson Golf Club and president of the Carolinas PGA Section, said. “The youngsters learn about competition, but it’s in a team format without the streess of individual play.”
Greg McBride, pro at Northwoods Golf Club, noted, “It’s a fun environment. You get young people interested in the game and they stay interested as they grow older. They learn about competition without the pressure, and they find out it’s OK not to be the best player. You see the kids in their jerseys ... that’s pretty cool.”
The concept follows youth baseball by involving parents working with the teams and, McBride said, “a family environment is a good thing. There are worse places to be than on a golf course. We’re really happy with the results from our first year and will definitely participate in the future.”
The Carolinas PGA section reported that 45 clubs in the Carolinas participated in the inaugural year and expects that number to increase with more information available earlier.
“We expect to have four or five teams (at least 10 players each) at Par Tee next year; there’s that much interest,” Mason said. “Some of the parents have asked about keeping it going all year, so we’ve had a great start. The kids enjoy the format, and having fun and keeping them in the game is the idea. I’m pleased with the results.”
State amateur champion Carson Young, who will enroll at Clemson next week, and USC rising sophomores Will Starke and Matt NeSmith will be South Carolinians in the U.S. Amateur this week in the Boston area. The field of 312 will play stroke-play rounds Monday and Tuesday with the low 64 advancing to match play for the remainder of the week at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
“My goal is to make match play,” Young said. “I really like match play, and I haven’t lost (in that format) in almost two years.”
Northwoods assistant Burke Cromer earned a spot in the national PGA Assistants championship with a fifth-place finish in the Carolinas event. Other state players advancing to the national tourney: Ray Franz (Daniel Island Club) and Ryan Tyndall (Pine Lakes CC). Just missing were Rohan Allwood (Woodlands) and Dewey Delovich (Cassique). ... Reona Hirai (Summerville) won the girls’ division and Tyler Young (Kennesaw, Ga.) earned the boys’ title in the Beth Daniel Junior Azalea at the Golf Club at Briars Creek. ... Rick Cloninger (Fort Mill) earned a spot in the U.S. Senior Amateur in qualifying in Hendersonville, N.C.