The Local Knowlege

Golf & Business

Team approach appears to be succeeding for this junior golf program

By Ryan Herrington

loop-pga-junior-league-vertical-300.jpgGolf might be an individual sport, but the game's social aspects make it attractive to many, including the youngest of players. It's why, in part, the PGA Junior League Golf has succeeded so quickly. Participation in the PGA of America initiative, which is set to kick off its third year next month, jumped 345 percent in 2013 and is expected to double again in 2014 with an anticipated 1,400 teams in 250 leagues nationwide involving 18,000 boys and girls.

The program aims to mimic the appeal of Little League Baseball and youth soccer leagues by introducing golf to kids 13 and younger in a team setting, including handing out uniforms with jersey numbers. Squads consist of players of all ages and skills, with competitions consisting of nine-hole matches in a two-person scramble format to reinforce the team concept and limit pressure on any one individual player. Coaches can substitute players every three holes so a whole team participates.

Teams compete in regular-season matches with regional championships held in the summer and a national championship scheduled for October at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga. For more information or to register, go to PGAJrLeagueGolf.com.

Photo: Montana Pritchard/PGA of America

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News & Tours

Who was more nervous at the first Drive, Chip and Putt Championship: The participants or the parents?

By Ryan Herrington

AUGUSTA, GA. -- The inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club had a little bit of everything: high 5s, fist pumps, cheers.

And that was just by the crowds.

For as exciting a morning as it was for the 88 boys and girls competing Sunday, it was equally emotional for friends and family watching them make history as the first-ever competitors in the event. The rhetorical question bandied about among those outside the ropes was who was more nervous out there, the participants or the parents?

"Watching my son, standing on the 18th green, lining up that putt, I was getting choked up," said Dudley Stephen of Atlanta, whose 9-year-old boy, Edward, was competing. "This is one of the most incredible things in his life, but it's also one of the most incredible in mine."

Co-organized by Augusta National, the USGA and the PGA of America, the championship crowned boys and girls champions in four age groups, the eight overall winners treated as if they had won the tournament that will wrap up here next Sunday. (What's the name of that one? Oh yeah, the Masters.)

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Most of the kids admitted to first-tee jitters as they began the competition on Augusta National's driving range. "I felt like my heart stopped out there," said Leo Cheng of Northridge, Calif., the eventual champion in the boys 10-11 group. "Some serious nerves going."

By the time they ventured over to the chipping area and then on to the practice putting green -- ultimately finishing up with a 15-foot putt on the 18th hole -- most had settled into competition mode. Some became so focused they didn't even notice that several professionals in the Masters field were catching some of the action before they started their Sunday practice round.

"Yeah, I've never had Fred Couples watching me putt before," said Natalie Pietromonaco of Auburn, Calif., winner of the girls 12-13 group. "So that was a new experience."

Past Masters champions Mark O'Meara, Zach Johnson and Adam Scott also took time to watch the young participants enjoy the limelight.

"It's pretty cool," Watson said. "What a thrill it has to be for them to be out here."

Lucy Li, 11, of Redwood City, Calif., has experience playing in big events, having become the youngest person to play in the U.S. Women's Amateur last August. After claiming the girls 10-11 title, however, she said the Drive, Chip and Putt experience was both the more exciting and more nerve-wracking.

"This is Augusta National," Li said matter of factly. "Everybody knows about this place. I had friends back home who were watching. This is like a big deal."

loop-dcp-cheng-fist-pump-300.jpgOthers echoed her enthusiasm. To win his age group, Cheng rolled in his putt on the 18th hole, taken from roughly the same spot as Scott holed his birdie putt on the 72nd hole a year ago. As the putt disappeared, Cheng (right) lifted his putter high in the air and gave a hearty fist pump. "It was so cool," Cheng said. "I mean, I felt like I was Adam Scott out there."

"It's the best day of my life," said Kelly Xu, a 9-year-old from Santa Monica, Calif., who won the girls 7-9 group.

In some respects the same could be said for Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, one of the driving forces behind the competition. Payne's genuine interest in increasing the number of young people coming to the game was the overriding reason he helped green light the event and is already looking forward to next year's championship, with registration for the 2015 edition having just opened.

"The way we're going to measure this isn't how well these players do in the future," Payne said, "but how many kids they help bring to golf."

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News & Tours

Inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship has juniors living Augusta National dreams

By Stephen Hennessey

loop-nolan-haynes-drive-chip-putt-300.jpgEvery morning before school, Nolan Haynes wakes up his father, Todd. "Dad, can we go hit some putts?" Nolan will beg, referring to the putting green that Todd bought the third-grader for practicing in their Ohio basement.

At 2, Nolan first picked up a golf club. At 4, he made a hole-in-one at their hometown course (caught on camera by Todd), which landed Nolan an appearance on the Today Show.

Now, at 9, he's going to compete at Augusta National.

Nolan (right) is one of 88 juniors ages 7 to 15 who have earned invitations to the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship that takes place this Sunday before Masters week activities begin in earnest. He believes he's going to be victorious. Talk to him, and you'll believe him, too.

"I'm going to go and win a green jacket at Augusta this year. And it's not going to be my last!" Nolan told his dad.

The Masters is co-sanctioning the event along with the PGA of America and the USGA in an effort to help get youngsters interested in the game. Starting last summer, 17,000 kids participated in 121 local and regional qualifiers to be among those lucky enough to drive down Magnolia Lane.

Sunday's participants will head to Augusta's famous 18th green to take part in the putting portion of the championship. They'll face putts from six, 20 and 30 feet, the 20-footer set up in the same spot where 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott holed his birdie effort in the final round of last year's event before going on to win in a playoff. The driving and chipping portions will be contested on Augusta's practice facility. Points are accumulated in each segment with winners named for various age groups

In addition to competing at Augusta, each competitor and his or her chaperone receive a Monday Masters practice-round ticket as part of a package that includes lodging for Saturday and Sunday at the downtown Marriott.

With four hours of live coverage of the event on the Golf Channel, many of the anonymous juniors will get some quality air time. Among a handful to watch for are:

* Lucy Li, 11, qualified for the U.S. Women's Amateur last year, the youngest to ever do so, and also made the match-play portion of the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links in 2013.

* Alexa Pano of Lake Worth, Fla., has won more than 30 national tournaments, including three U.S. Kids Golf Championships. The 9-year-old appeared on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" to promote the documentary "The Short Game" in which she was featured.

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* Rheagan Hall, 14, recently found a day during this brutally cold winter to shoot a 78 at her local course near home in Charleston, Tenn. Hall (above) attended the 2012 Masters with her dad, Mack, so she won't feel that "awe factor" when she steps foot on Augusta's grounds.

loop-hall-scrapbook.jpgAs a surprise, Rheagan's mother, Karen, wrote to several legends in golf and other sports. Karen asked Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and even Peyton Manning and George W. Bush, to offer a good-luck note for Rheagan. Guess what? They all did. Karen put together a scrapbook with more than 50 signatures from past U.S. Presidents, celebrities and athletes.

Will she be nervous? All of these celebrities will be watching and pulling for her.

"Maybe," she said with a laugh. "But I'm ready."

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News & Tours

Which kid has the best golf swing in the land? There's a contest to find out

By Alex Myers

A recently released documentary, "The Short Game," has put junior golf in the spotlight. But even if you haven't been grooming your kids for a potential career in golf, you can still show off their skills.

Related: Golf Digest's 10 best tips for getting your kids started in golf

Little Linksters is running its fourth annual "Best Pee Wee Golf Swing In The World" video contest. And even if you don't have kids who play golf, you will still enjoy this cute compilation video from last year's entrants. Well, if you don't mind watching little kids put your golf swing to shame.

This year's guest judges include Gary Player, Brittany Lincicome, Frank Nobilo, and Holly Sonders. In other words, the contest is kind of a big deal for little golfers.

Related: More junior golf content

Have a kid you'd like to nominate? There is still time to fill out an application and submit a video. Don't be shy!

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News & Tours

Will Grimmer, 16, shoots 59 at Pinehurst event

By Alex Myers

2012 was a banner year for golf phenoms with 15-year-old Lydia Ko winning an LPGA event and 17-year-old Beau Hossler briefly leading the U.S. Open at Olympic. The game's teens had been relatively quiet in 2013 until Will Grimmer's scoring explosion on Wednesday.

Related: Golf's biggest phenoms

Golf Channel reported the 16-year-old from Cincinnati shot a 59 at Pinehurst No. 1 during the second round of the North & South Junior Amateur. Grimmer shot 30 on the back nine first before coming in with a 29 (despite a bogey on No. 1), capped by a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 9.

Here's a video of Grimmer discussing his magical round, courtesy of Pinehurst Resort:

Grimmer told Golf Channel that, "It didn't ever really seem possible until the last hole." That makes sense considering the 59 bettered his previous tournament-best score by seven shots.

Of course, this isn't the first time someone who's not even voting age in this country has gone really low. Three years ago, Bobby Wyatt, then 17, shot a 14-under 57 at the Country Club of Mobile in the second round of the Alabama Golf Association State Boys Championship. Wyatt recently helped lead Alabama to its first-ever NCAA men's golf championship.

Related: Golf's all-time best scoring displays

Perhaps Grimmer is on his way to similar success at the next level. First things first, though. Thanks to an opening 74, Grimmer still trails by two shots meaning he'll need another good round on Thursday just to win this tournament.

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News & Tours

At TopGolf, golf is a party and business is booming

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

Growing up in England, it wasn't called TopGolf. Well, technically it was, but my coach preferred a different name for it: The Happy Place.
 
It was more than 10 years ago that my coach would bring me and a group of other junior golfers out to Watford, a town on the outskirts of London, for our TopGolf fill. I since moved to America and became an adult (ugh) but so, it turns out, did TopGolf.

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The idea for the business blossomed out of boredom: Twin brothers Steve and Dave Joliffe were on the range one day growing increasingly more annoyed at their lack of answers to a series of simple questions. How far was their ball going? Where was it landing? And most importantly: how can we make this more fun?

Related: Top Golf...the range (and game grower) of the future
 
The solution they came up with was TopGolf. Each golf ball was fitted with a microchip to track all the technical stuff. The ten pins scattered around the range, meanwhile, which range from 20 to about 240 yards, were surrounded by sections like a dartboard. The closer you hit it to the pin, the more points you were awarded, which increase the further out you go. Beer? Food? Music? A mini-golf course? Sure, throw them in there, too.

 
In 2000 they opened their first facility in the Watford location, which proved so popular they opened two more outside London. In 2005, they set their sights on America.
 
"Over time we realized that we really appealed to a wide audience, not just avid golfers," said Adrienne Browne, the communications manager at TopGolf. "It became known as a place you can bring the whole family and everyone can enjoy."
 
Their first facility in the U.S. opened just outside of Washington D.C. in Alexandria, Virginia, and not long after launched another outside Chicago.
 
At first glace, with prices per 20 golf balls (the number of golf balls in a game) varying from $4.80 to $7.00, depending on the time of day, and facilities expensive to build, TopGolf looked in trouble when the economic recession rolled around, but people just kept flocking to its ranges -- about 1,600 on an average weekend night, most between the ages of 18 and 38.

While companies across the country were tightening their belts and holding on, TopGolf again expanded -- this time into Texas. They opened two facilities near Dallas, where they also moved their corporate headquarters, one in Austin, and one in Houston.

Related: The Top 20 Cities For Golf
 
"After Alexandria and Chicago, the success in Dallas was just astronomical," Browne said. "The economic climate was right for us and it was more of a year-round golfing environment."
 
So what's next for TopGolf?
 
More facilities, for starters. They have four more due to open soon: one in Alpharetta, Georgia, by Atlanta, one in Scottsdale, and one more outside both Dallas and Houston. They want to add another 11 in 2014, which would bring their total to 21, and if they keep up with their current rate of growth, by 2017, they'll exceed the NFL's average yearly attendance.
 
And they might, along they way, change the game.

 
That's what Gavin Grenville-Wood, the coach who taught me the game, thinks anyway. He's the one who first brought me to Top Golf, and has continued bringing batches of junior golfers every year since.
 
"TopGolf makes the driving range less boring," says Grenville-Wood. "Which is good, because let's face it: practicing at the driving range is really freaking boring."

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News & Tours

Could video games get more people to take up golf?

By Alex Myers

How do we grow the game of golf? It's a question many around the sport -- from organizations like the USGA and PGA of America, to magazines like Golf Digest -- ask often.

But it turns out there are a lot more people playing golf than thought. It's just that their rounds aren't being documented. The reason? The participants are playing from their couches.

A recent study by the National Golf Foundation has estimated that 45.5 million Americans who don't play golf do play golf video games.

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Photo by Getty Images

Another stat of note in the study is that the percentage of females playing golf video games (44 percent) is more than double the percentage of females who actually play golf (19 percent). In other words, this virtual participation indicates that there is potential for a lot more people, especially women, to start playing golf, especially once they learn that the real thing can be more rewarding than what they're experiencing on a screen. And they might even keep it up, provided they don't get too discouraged by the scores they'd shoot when the leave the comfy confines of their homes.

Related: Our beginner's guide to playing golf

Not surprisingly, a large percentage of the roughly 25 million Americans who play golf (about 40 percent) also engage in golf video games. But they make up less than 20 percent of the total number of people playing those games.

So why aren't all these people playing Tiger Woods Golf on Playstation showing up at actual courses? Well, the fact that nearly one third of them are younger (ages 6-17) shows that the game could be in the process of growing after all. We may just have to wait for some of these kids to outgrow their controllers.

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News & Tours

History is made at 2012 U.S. Junior Amateurs

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Andy Hyeon Bo Shim holds the trophy after winning the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. Photo: Jim Cole/AP Photo

Like the British Open, both the boys' and girls' U.S. Junior Amateur tournaments ended in dramatic comeback fashion as Andy Hyeon Bo Shim and Minjee Lee took home their respective titles over the weekend.

Shim, 17, of Duluth, Ga., rebounded from a 5-hole deficit -- the largest comeback in championship-match history -- to defeat Jim Liu, 16, of Smithtown, N.Y., 4 and 3, and claim the 2012 U.S. Junior Amateur title at the 7,125-yard, par-72 Golf Club of New England.

"This is a dream come true," said Shim. "I couldn't believe myself. He [Liu] is in the top 5 (juniors) in the country... I was 5 down, but if I just keep making my birdies on the front nine, it happens... I just kept thinking about one shot ahead."

Liu, who became the youngest-ever champion of the Junior Amateur when he won at the age of 14 in 2010, was 5 up after the morning 18 of the 36-hole match, but Shim won eight of the first 10 holes in the afternoon on the strength of three birdies, one eagle and six pars to turn the match around.

Shim becomes the third Korean player to win the Junior Amateur. Terry Noe of Korea won in 1994 and Sihwan Kim won in 2004.

On the girl's side, held at the 6,291-yard, par-72 Lake Merced Golf Club, Australia's Minjee Lee, 16, became the country's first ever U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur champion, winning four of the final six holes for a 1-up victory over Alison Lee, 17, of Valencia, Calif., in Saturday's 36-hole finale. If you recall, Alison Lee was one three amateurs to make the cut at the U.S. Women's Open two weeks ago.

"I'm so relieved that it's over," said Minjee Lee, currently ranked No. 8 in the Women's World Amateur Golf Ranking. "I was so tense coming into the last couple of holes."

Minjee Lee became the eighth USGA champion to hail from Australia, and the first since Geoff Ogilvy won the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club. She is only the third Aussie female to capture a USGA championship, joining Jan Stephenson (1983 Women's Open) and Hall of Famer Karrie Webb (2000-01 Women's Open).

For a full recap, head over to the USGA website.

-- Derek Evers


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News & Tours

Beau Hossler shows poise well beyond his 17 years

SAN FRANCISCO--The thing about teenagers is they tend to have selective memories. Chances are, then, Beau Hossler will begin today's third round of the U.S. Open recalling how at one time yesterday afternoon he held the outright lead at Olympic Club as opposed to harping on the bumpy finish that left him four off the lead by day's end.

Through 11 holes Friday, the 17-year-old from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., sat at two under for the championship, gaining a new legion of fans as the high school junior claimed a one-stroke lead over Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods and looked more at ease than anyone wearing braces has any right to be when playing a major championship. Still, he had most of the front nine to play, where bogeys marinate among the tall cypress trees and sloping fairways.

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(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Wayward drives on the second, fourth and fifth holes led to two bogeys and a double bogey. By the time his round concluded, Hossler had posted a three-over 73, playing the last seven holes in five over.

Hossler insists the pressure of being in the lead wasn't what led to his trouble, but rather just the difficulty of the course. "That's going to happen," he said. "You're going to have stretches, especially on those holes where you're struggling. Obviously, I think I got out of my rhythm a little bit on those tee shots, and those really killed me. But I don't think at all it was based on the stage, I think it was just based on making some bad swings and unfortunately at the wrong time."

Related: Friday's winners and losers at Olympic Club

Even as he struggled to get in the house Friday, eventually finishing T-9 through 36 holes, four back of Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and David Toms, Hossler never showed any outward signs of losing his composure. It's a trait that has marked his game throughout his junior career. "He's always been very calm, very mature," said his mother, Amy Balsz. "That's just Beau."

No doubt part of Hossler's comfort this year stems from the fact that this isn't his first major championship appearance. In 2011 he qualified to play at Congressional CC, allowing him to get all the first-time jitters out of the way so that when he became the first high schooler to earn a spot in back-to-back Opens since Mason Rudolph in 1950-51 he would be able to concentrate on his game rather than the spectacle of the championship.

"Last year I felt a little bit uncomfortable, just couldn't really get in a rhythm because it was so different than anything I had experienced," he said. " But now I feel a little bit more familiar with it."

Related: Golf's all-time biggest phenoms

There's also the fact that physically Hossler is a more mature player than he was a year ago. He now stands nearly 6-feet, a few inches taller than at Congressional, and his body has filled out.

As great as his physical assets might be, it's his mental stamina that might serve he the best. With a 4.0 GPA, Hossler is a model student who is hoping to accelerate his senior year of high school so that he can graduate in December and enroll early at Texas in 2013.

Hossler's smarts allow him to make a clear assessment of what he needs to do to continue to have success this weekend at Olympic Club.

"There's some things I really got to tighten up for the next couple days because I know the course is going to get harder," he said. "I feel like I'm in a good spot for me to reach my goal of low amateur."

-- Ryan Herrington

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News & Tours

Golf helping rough neighborhood near San Francisco's Olympic Club

When a spiffy, artificial turf short-game area and first-class netted driving range was installed in 2009 for a new First Tee program at Visitacion Valley Middle School in southeastern San Francisco, less than 10 miles, but a world away from U.S. Open site Olympic Club, skeptics had their doubts.

The school is situated in one of the city's roughest neighborhoods, including the notorious Sunnydale housing project. Seventy-eight percent of Visitacion Valley's students -- sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders -- live below the poverty level. The parents of only 2 percent of the students graduated from college. Several years ago, 70 of the school's 400 students had both parents who were incarcerated. Few have been unscathed by the area's violence.

"There was a spree five years ago when we had 41 murders," says the school's outgoing principal James Dierke. "I had kids coming in all wearing pictures of somebody who died. They were related to the person who died or related to the person who did the shooting or they witnessed the shooting."

Three years since the golf facility was put in at Visitacion Valley, on the same land where, as Dierke says, "neighborhood kids would come with the cars they stole and light them on fire," there is no graffiti, no damage. "No one has destroyed or vandalized anything in three years," Dierke says.

It looks like new. So, in fact, do many of the students.

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