Accessibility and affordability, perennial watchwords of junior golf, have never been more relevant. Since 1984, Golf Digest has been recognizing innovative programs for children with our Junior Development Awards. This year's honorees are bringing kids into the game and, more important, finding ways to keep them playing. Awards went to an association, a club, an individual, a municipality and a corporation.
Annual Junior-Development Awards
We honor five kid-centric programs that grow the game
Photo by Trevor Brown
Colorado Golf Association
"Our mission is to grow the game," announced Ed Mate, president of the Colorado Golf Association at the opening last May of their 9-hole par-3 Kid's Course. Adjacent to the Tom Doak-designed CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora, the Kid's Course was funded, in part, by a $175,000 U.S. Golf Association grant.
Youngsters from the Boy and Girl Scouts, Special Olympics, LPGA Girls Club and Big Brothers and Sisters are among the groups having free access to this facility. "The goal is to have junior programming here every day," says Dustin Jensen, director of youth programs for the CGA. For a $5 green fee, kids from surrounding areas can play anytime.
The association puts a high priority on caddies and supports programs to keep them employed. It is unusual for public courses to offer caddies. However, at CommonGround, a public facility, golfers taking caddies, get preferred tee times. Each year, a dozen or so young loopers receive tuition and housing scholarships to the University of Colorado. Additionally, the association promotes and places Evans Scholars.
Photo: Courtesy of Canterbury GC
Canterbury Golf Club Beachwood, Ohio
Head professional Michael Kernicki favors programs that appeal to all family members. Canterbury is primarily a golf club, but Kernicki recognizes the need for a first-rate swimming pool, high quality tennis courts and base-building activities like special activities for beginning women.
Kids at Canterbury are the biggest beneficiaries of the club's evolving image. Wednesday morning is reserved for juniors and they play anywhere from one to 18 holes on the championship course depending on their age and competence.
There are two one-week summer camps featuring golf, tennis, swimming and crafts. For budding teen golfers, Canterbury offers the "Tweens" Camp. Qualified youngsters can earn a junior bag tag, which allows them to play unaccompanied at specific times. The best junior golfers make up the Junior Tour School and Junior Travel team. Parents of juniors are required to volunteer a certain number of days.
Photo: Courtesy of AJGA
Mary Carriker, San Antonio
Mary Carriker (pictured above, black shirt) has progressed from junior golf mom to junior golf director. She is currently director of the First Tee of San Antonio, chairman of the AJGA tournament that has been held there for the past 19 years, director of amateur events for the San Antonio Golf Association and chairman of the pro-am that precedes the Valero Texas Open.
Carriker became involved with junior golf in the 1980s when she was living in Hawaii and her children wanted to play competitively. She was disappointed by the limited opportunities there. A few years later, the family moved to San Antonio. Still looking for junior activities, Mary heard about the fledgling AJGA where Wendy Ward, a friend of her daughter, Holly, was competing. Before long, she was running the San Antonio AJGA event and has continued to do so since 1991.
Photo by Suzanne Hemphill
Chattanooga is a model of how a municipality combined its resources for the good of the community. The Player Development Complex, a comprehensive practice facility used jointly by The First Tee of Chattanooga and the University of Tennessee Chattanooga team members, opened last fall.
Located on land donated by the city, the project was spearheaded by Mayor Ron Littlefield, First Tee director Kathleen McCarthy and long-time local professional Eddie Taylor. Programs run throughout the year, but most of the 320 kids attend summer clinics. Charges are nominal and volunteering can be done in lieu of payment. Kids also earn First Tee "bucks" by doing chores, making the honor roll in school and practicing their golf skills. No adults are allowed except those designated by kids in the program.
The First Tee Chattanooga received a grant of $100,000 from the U.S. Golf Association this summer. That money will be used for additional green construction at the complex.
Photo: Courtesy of AJGA
Polo Ralph Lauren
Worn by golfers as diverse as Morgan Pressel and Tom Watson, the Polo logo is also seen at many junior competitions. The company, Polo Ralph Lauren, a major contributor to the AJGA for the past 16 years, sponsors the Polo Junior Classic, a premier AJGA event. It also outfits the East and West junior teams that compete annually in the Canon Cup.
As a founding partner of the Achieving Competitive Excellence (ACE) program, Polo is making its most meaningful contribution to juniors. Now in its seventh year, these grants provide money for kids to play in AJGA events regardless of their financial resources. Eligible juniors -- there are 100 this year -- must provide valid receipts for their expenses, which are then reimbursed.
"The Ace Grants enabled our sons to have the exposure and experience they needed to get college scholarships," says John DeForest of Cottekill, N.Y., a former touring professional, whose boys readily qualify as the ACE poster children. Chris, 21, the second son, but first in the family to receive financial reimbursement (The Ace program wasn't in place when John, the eldest, played junior golf), had a stellar junior career beating Peter Uihlein in an AJGA event and winning the PGA Junior Championship. He's now a senior at the University of Illinois where his roommate is Scott Langley, current NCAA champion and the low amateur at this year's U.S. Open. The other DeForest brothers, Andrew, 18, Benjamin, 16, and Ethan, 14, are taking advantage of the ACE grants to pursue their junior dreams. However, as their dad explains, "We only ask for reimbursement for legitimate expenses and feel an obligation not to use these funds if there is another option."