It’s a scene that never gets old, kids decked out in all colors of the rainbow with hopes of mastering the game of golf.
The site might be for a PGA Junior League match, a South Carolina Junior Golf Association tournament, competition in the Drive, Chip and Putt program or just youngsters on a family outing, but all provide sparks of optimism about the future of the game.
Just this past weekend, 144 youngsters and their families descended on Fort Jackson Golf Club for the Drive, Chip and Putt sub-regional — the next-to-last step to a date in the finals at Augusta National Golf Club on the Sunday prior to the 2020 Masters.
“It’s always a treat to have them here,” Mike Casto, director of golf and general manager at Fort Jackson GC. “This is really golf in a nutshell, an opportunity to grow the game.”
The players — boys and girls ages 7-15 — ranged from a national champion earlier this year and another who barely missed a trip to Augusta. Dads giving pep talks designed to calm jittery nerves, and moms providing “do-your-best” hugs created memorable moments. The shots, good and bad, earned fist bumps to applaud the effort.
“We have kids from all walks of life, and seeing families involved and having fun ... it’s super-exciting,” said Jessica Asbury, Carolinas Coordinator for PGA Reach in the PGA of America’s Carolinas Section who oversaw 21 Drive Chip and Putt competitions this year.
Those who made the scene at Fort Jackson qualified by finishing in the top three in first-round action are locations throughout the Carolinas. Tom Mason hosted two sessions at his Par Tee Golf Center in West Columbia and said, “We love to provide the opportunities for the kids.”
The top two in each age group at Fort Jackson earned berths in the regional, set for September at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
“I’m excited,” said Josh Cameron, a student at Camden Middle School who won the boys’ 12-13 age group. He has taken some lessons from pro Matt McCarley at Camden Country Club, but, his dad Chris said: “He took to golf naturally. He hasn’t played that long, but he’s made a lot of progress.”
Peyton Burch of Elgin, a freshman at Cardinal Newman and a member of the school’s golf team, shared the “excited” thought after placing second in the girls’ 14-15 age-group.
“I got started in golf by going with my dad (Stephen) to the golf course and I have been playing competitively for four years,” she said. Her wicked short game in the chip and putt phases provided her ticket to the regional.
“This is the sixth year we’ve had the sub-regional at Fort Jackson, and it’s always a great day,” Casto said. “We had 16 great volunteers who made things run smoothly, and the base command is very supportive, so it’s win-win all the way.”
There’s always a moment that stands out and Casto chuckles at the one provided by the youngster who stepped to the tee armed with his driver and a load of confidence.
“The volunteers were standing along the driving grid,” Casto said. “The young man looked and told them, ‘You need to back up.’ ”
That’s golf. The next shot is always going to be the best one, and the optimism on display at Fort Jackson bodes well for the game’s future.
Chip shots. S.C Amateur champion Tyler Gray (Lugoff/Coastal Carolina) holds the lead in the SCGA’s Player of the Year race. Logan Sowell (Kershaw/College of Charleston), runnder-up in the State Am, is second. Walter Todd (Laurens) holds slim edge over Eddie Hargett (Blythewod) in the Senior POY race. …Chloe Holder (Williamston) posted rounds of 71-72 _ 143 to win the CGA’s Vicki DiSantis Junior Girls’ title by two strokes at Pine Island CC in Charlotte. . . . The Midlands Golf Course Owners Association is offering its Platinum and Gold books, which include play at many area courses at special rates, in a Summer Sizzling sale. Buy the Platinum book for $40 and also receive the Gold, a $30 value. Go online to www.scmidlandsgolf.org for details.