In 2010, the American Junior Golf Association set a record of 5,349 members, the most ever, surpassing a previous high of 5,342 in 2002. This is rather remarkable in light of the flat or downward trends seen in the game regarding course closures and overall participation.
Several key reasons account for the AJGA's success. Not in the least is a willingness on the part of the AJGA leadership to adjust to changing times.
(AJGA players laughed it up during an event at PGA National in 2009. Photo courtesy of the AJGA)
During 2010, there were 14,706 playing opportunities, an increase of 32.5 percent compared to 2006. This has been accomplished through the introduction of a variety of entry-level events.
The youngest, ages 12-15, start with the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy Junior All-Star series. Kids new to the AJGA or those who haven't played in the past year are eligible for the Golf Academy of America Preseason Junior series. More seasoned players gain entry by excelling at scheduled tournaments. The most skilled juniors earn places in the invitational competitions. Where feasible, field sizes are expanding from 78 or 99 players to 132 or 144.
International members have grown from 195 in 2007 to 400 this year. Domestically, Florida saw the biggest increase in members, 307 in 2009 to 404 this year, but Nebraska, New Jersey and Kansas are attracting interest by bringing new AJGA tournaments to their states.
In no small part is the AJGA's attractiveness tied to the opportunity to impress college coaches in hopes of earning scholarships. On average, nine college coaches attend each event as the association attempts to make good on its mission to help younger golfers find their way to college. The class of 2010 had 772 letters of intent signed, more than any other graduating class.
Of the 5,349 current members, 4,099 are boys; 1,250, girls. A bright spot among the girls is the emergence of top-ranked African-American players, including several pairs of gifted sisters. Among them are Ginger and Robbi Howard, Sierra and Mariana Sims and Lakareber and Tezira Abe.
In recognition of her leadership, Mariah Stackhouse, a two-time AJGA winner, was named the first African-American player representative to the 2011 AJGA Board of Directors. "It lets other people see that I've worked very hard to get to this point, yet I was still humble about it and it's nice to be recognized," commented Stackhouse.
The AJGA is successful because it anticipates and meets the needs of its members -- a good plan for any organization.
-- *Topsy Siderowf