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IMG Academy Junior World Championships canceled for first time in 53 years

April 16, 2020

Over the weeks, as the COVID-19 pandemic wore on, the decision to cancel July’s IMG Academy Junior World Championships for the first time in 53 years seemed inevitable. That didn’t make it any easier when organizers decided to pull the plug on Thursday.

“It’s devastating. It’s crushing for our organization,” said Megan Mahoney, the executive director for Junior World and the San Diego County Junior Golf Association.

Held every year in San Diego since 1968 and organized by the SDCJGA, Junior World is among the marquee events on the youth golf calendar, with a claim to multiple high-profile championship winners, including Tiger Woods and Lorena Ochoa. It is among the biggest tournament draws for international junior players, with nearly half the field of 1,200 coming from more than 50 countries.

That circumstance alone—needing families to travel from all parts of the world—made staging the tournament, scheduled for July 4-10, daunting. Mahoney said she and her board of directors waited as long they could and mulled numerous contingencies before deciding they could not pull off the tournament.

“As the days have gone by … I’ve made the analogy that for the last month I feel like Junior World has been a hospice patient for me,” Mahoney said. “We tried to have hope, but the news wasn’t what we wanted.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a stay-at-home order on March 19, and within a week all of the 10 courses on which the Junior World would be played closed down. Those included the Torrey Pines North and South courses, which annually host the 15- to 18-year-old boys and girls divisions.

Those older athletes attract as many as 130 college coaches for scouting purposes.

“We think about the kids and their missed opportunities. They worked hard to get here,” Mahoney said.

The timing of the decision saved the SDCJGA a considerable amount of money, though Mahoney said that between the loss of Junior World revenue and the other tournaments that will not be played this summer, SDCJCA is looking at a 20- to 25-percent deficit in its overall operations budget for the year.

At the time of the decision to not play, Mahoney said there were approximately 5 to 10 percent of the international families who had not canceled their plans for Junior World. Among Americans, she said, the desire to play seemed to vary by state. She said families from states such as Arizona and Texas, where golf courses are still open, seemed to be the most committed.

There are other large-scale junior events this summer that may yet be affected by the coronavirus. The USGA, which has pushed back dates for the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open, has not announced schedule changes for the U.S. Junior Amateur, set for July 20-25 at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minn., or the U.S Girls’ Junior (July 13-18, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo.). The American Junior Golf Association has canceled all its events through Memorial Day and is mulling additional schedule changes.

The U.S. Kids World Championship, which attracts 1,500 golfers from around the world and is scheduled for July 30-Aug. 1 in Pinehurst, N.C., has not indicated changes to its scheduling. A message left with U.S. Kids organizers on Thursday was not immediately returned.