In 1994, leaders of the Southern Texas PGA Section (STPGA) made a long-term commitment to junior golf, vowing to provide programs that would help develop youths of all ages, backgrounds and skill levels into lifelong golfers. It was an ambitious commitment, but if you know anything about Texas in general, or the Southern Texas PGA in particular, you know when they promise to do something, they do it big.
Almost 30 years later, the Southern Texas PGA Junior Golf Program is the largest in the United States. In 2022, it ran 450-plus tournaments and welcomed 4,087 juniors ages 6-18. The Section, which consists of 800-plus PGA Members and Associates, owns four programs for youths of all skill levels and is part owner of a fifth tour that encompasses the entire state of Texas. Today, the STPGA conducts a spring, summer and fall series, each with its own championship, that gives young players an opportunity to play nearly year-round.
“We went all in on junior golf because it grows the game and develops the next generation of golfers and golf customers,” notes Southern Texas PGA Executive Director Thomas Hutton. “Our program started as a clinic-based approach that saw PGA Members running STPGA-approved clinics with a curriculum created by the Section.
“Today, the STPGA is proud of the player pathway we have created to showcase how to become a lifelong golfer.”
In recognition of its commitment to growing the game and its exemplary contributions and achievements in the area of player development, the Southern Texas PGA Section is the recipient of the 2023 Herb Graffis Award.
Of course, it takes a village to win a prestigious national award. Southern Texas PGA President James D. Brown is quick to recognize the hundreds of Section members and staffers who played a role in growing the Southern Texas PGA Junior Golf Program and other player-development programs from an acorn into a giant oak.
“On behalf of the entire membership and Section staff of the Southern Texas PGA, this (winning the Herb Graffis Award) is the thrill of a lifetime,” says Brown of The Clubs at Houston Oaks in Hockley, Texas. “The membership and staff work tirelessly to promote the game of golf through our PGA REACH pillars of Junior Golf, College Scholarships, Military and Veterans programs, and Employment Opportunities for our members.
“As the Section President, I am humbled and grateful to have had the opportunity to serve a Section passionate about growth of the game.”
While its junior golf program is the centerpiece of its player-development programs, the Southern Texas PGA conducts several additional growth of the game programs annually. It conducts PGA HOPE (Helping Our Veterans Everywhere) initiatives each year, and is one of five PGA Sections to have its PGA Professionals participate in the African-American fraternity Sigma Pi Phi PGA Junior League partnership created by PGA REACH. The program at Kingwood Country Club helped more than 35 juniors learn to play golf. PGA REACH Southern Texas is also helping to build a new nine-hole, par-3 facility in the Fifth Ward Community in downtown Houston. The facility will be managed by PGA Professionals with programming for junior golf and PGA HOPE.
In its commitment to developing juniors into lifelong golfers, the Southern Texas PGA has 12 full-time and 100-plus part-time staff members joining Section PGA Members in lending their expertise to transforming today’s neophyte players into tomorrow’s top amateurs or professional players.
“What we believe sets us apart is the ownership that our PGA Members have taken in all aspects of junior golf,” says Hutton. “We believe we have some of the best junior golf instructors, player development programs and tournaments that create lifelong golfers. All our programs are designed to drive revenue and exposure to our PGA Professionals and their facilities.”
To demonstrate how the Southern Texas PGA has helped turn several young players into tomorrow’s potential superstars, consider that three members of the 2022 NCAA national championship University of Texas golf team – Cole Hammer, Travis Vick and Mason Nome – grew up playing in Southern Texas PGA Junior Golf Programs, as did many other NCAA Division I golfers.