ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The golf industry has been trying to launch ways to grow the future of the game, and the PGA of America looks to have come up with a 300-yard drive down the middle of the fairway.
And the idea is quickly catching on in New Mexico.
"It's all about having a team atmosphere for kids," said Dana Lehner, executive director of the Sun Country PGA Golf Association. "Who'd have guessed that throwing a number and a team name on the back of a shirt would get so many kids interested? I wish I'd have known that 10 years ago. But it's a great concept."
There are still individual junior golf events scheduled throughout the Sun Country -- New Mexico and West Texas -- this spring and summer. But, in addition comes a team tournament-style program called the PGA Junior League. It begins in Albuquerque in May and caters to golfers who perhaps aren't skilled enough to play in top-flight junior events in the region.
Lehner said there has been a great deal of interest in the program, and the deadline to sign up will "run through at least mid-April."
There are pods of players -- the program is open to boys and girls under the age of 13 -- at each of the courses, who will compete against teams from other golf courses in New Mexico.
The format is two players from one team compete against two from another in a scramble (taking the best shot each time). Lehner said that each team will have multiple two-player squads, and there will also be substitutions made.
"It will be like Little League, except with golf," he said.
Tournaments are on different courses each week. Matches continue through the end of June.
Lehner said the Sun Country experimented with the format last year in Farmington, and it was so successful that it has expanded it throughout the region. He said at least six Albuquerque courses -- Arroyo del Oso, UNM (he thinks North and Championship will have one team), Puerto del Sol, Los Altos, Albuquerque Country Club and Tanoan Country Club -- are already part of the program, and more are considering it.
For more information, contact one of the six aforementioned courses, or visit pga. com/pga-america/juniors.
"We're hoping to introduce the game to kids through a low-stress competitive environment," Lehner said. "Then the next step is into the Sun Country Junior Tour on an individual basis."
The Junior Tour will host approximately 50 tournaments throughout the section, including the Sun Country Junior Match Play Championship, the Junior PGA National Championship Qualifier and the Junior Tour Championship.
Cost of a membership is $40 for the season and each tournament is $25 (the aforementioned big three events have higher fees).
For more information, visit www.suncountryjuniortour. com or call 505-897-0864.
APS YOUTH PROGRAM:
The Albuquerque Public Schools system and Los Altos Golf Course started an after-school program to encourage elementary and middle school students to learn the game.
Chris Moya, executive director at Los Altos, said students receive instruction from a PGA professional, range balls and get to play the executive course for just $5. Moya said the adult members at Los Altos have also raised money so kids from low-income families can partake in the program for free.
"We just want to create a new avenue for a new generation of players," Moya said. "I always hear from parents about how much they wish there were more after-school activities for their kids. So we met with APS and came up with this."
Moya said the program is available Mondays through Fridays, and any parent, teacher, coach or administrator interested in scheduling students should call him at 505-298-1897 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was written by Mark Smith from Albuquerque Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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