SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- This week at the 2017 PGA Jr. League Championship presented by National Car Rental, 80 of the program's 42,000 young golfers from around the country had the opportunity to compete at the highest level on a challenging course at Grayhawk Golf Club.
It also allowed the opportunity for novices of the PGA Jr. League program, like myself, to get an up-close view of what makes this program so great for growing the game of golf among young athletes.
While there are many junior programs out there that do a great job of developing the young golfers that go on to play on professional tours around the world, PGA Jr. League takes things to a different level.
Here are a few things I learned while watching play and talking to players, parents and captains about what makes PGA Jr. League such a success and made me wish I had a similar program when I began playing golf.
5. This is such a fun format
As I wrote about the other day
, the match-play format that has been adapted by PGA Jr. League is just downright fun. I fully plan on using it when I play a round with some of my buddies.
The 9-hole layout is perfect for keeping rounds quick, and it also makes each shot count that much more. Additionally, the rules modifications to make all penalties a one-shot penalty -- and all hazards lateral -- helps to keep learning the rules simple and the rounds moving along.
And by breaking down each 9-hole match into three smaller best-of-3 games (what PGA Jr. League calls “flags”), it helps keep matches more competitive by isolating any holes that go awry or portions of the course that might be more difficult for a team.
I will admit, for newcomers who are used to only stroke play or traditional match play, you might not completely understand it at first. But like any sport you’re not completely familiar with, spend a few minutes watching and it’s easy to pick up on.
4. It’s a very inclusive program to all skill levels
The team nature of PGA Jr. League extends beyond the two golfers working together. There are 8-12 golfers on each team who split up to teams of 2-3 to compete in four matches.
But how can you have more than eight golfers for four matches and be inclusive, you might ask?
Just like in any other team sport, captains have the ability to sub in players to put their team in the best position to win and, more importantly, the position for each athlete to succeed.
In addition, the course setups are required to be inclusive of players of all levels. For that reason, par 3s don’t exceed 150 yards, par 4s don’t exceed 350 yards and par 5s don’t exceed 450 yards. When setting up tees, captains at home courses are also encouraged to avoid long carries to reach the fairway or green from the tee.
By being inclusive on different levels, it encourages players to continue to improve their game and reach the next milestone in their golf career.
3. Fosters healthy competition
This was something I couldn’t see enough of during the week. The team aspect of PGA Jr. League provided so many opportunities for players to interact with each other and talk through how to play a shot.
The substitutes that walk along with the group played an integral role in helping read putts, get yardages and talk through shot strategy. The two players actively playing would consistently talk through how they wanted to approach a shot and ask for advice on where a putt might break or if a risky shot was worth it.
As a spectator and a fan of golf, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these conversations that sounded much like what you’d hear between a caddie and a tour pro on TV.
Good shots were met with cheers, bad shots were met with encouragement — for both fellow teammates and competitors.
From everything I saw and heard from parents and PGA Professionals who run programs at their own courses, this healthy competition is par for the course and was great to see on display even as the competition was at its most intense.
2. Fosters leadership opportunities
This was a benefit that I heard repeatedly from many parents.
Golf doesn’t have the reputation for building great leaders like other sports do. It’s just the nature of the sport being primarily an individual one.
But what happens when you add in that team aspect? Parents are seeing their children become leaders and mentors on their team and those skills spilling over into other areas of their lives at school and other organizations.
For some kids, this builds upon the leadership skills they’ve learned playing other sports. For others, this is the first time in their lives they’ve been exposed to that type of opportunity.
It’s these leadership skills more than the skill of managing a golf course that will serve these youngsters greatly as they enter high school and life beyond.
1. Kids love it
For all that can be said about the format or the fact that parents are excited their kids are getting great leadership opportunities, the most important thing I saw this week was that the kids out there were having the time of their lives.
Every boy and girl I talked to repeated the same adoration for their teammates and how much fun they were having on the golf course.
For everything that could be said about the level of golf talent on display and how impressive these PGA Jr. League participants are as people, the fact they were having as much fun as they were speaks so much volume to the impact the program has had and will continue to have as it keeps growing around the country.