Category - Amateur Programs
Making the Most of a Championship Moment
By Mandy Crow
Belle Kongshaug and Chase Birdwell.
Belle Kongshaug and Chase Birdwell of Team Minnesota have a lot in common.
Both come from families who are deeply invested in the game and share a love for PGA Jr. League. In fact, both Belle and Chase have grown up in the program, alongside siblings who play in other PGA Jr. League age divisions.
In 2021, both hit holes-in-one at the 13u National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship.
Belle and Chase were both set to represent Team Minnesota on the national stage once again this week, competing at the inaugural 17u National Car Rental PGA Championship, Nov. 16-19, at Twin Warriors Golf Club in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico. Unfortunately, Belle will be missing the tournament on doctor’s orders after an emergency appendectomy.
Even so, the Kongshaug family plans to follow the action and cheer on Team Minnesota from home.
“Belle tried to talk the doctor into letting her play, but with surgery, there is no way that she could do it,” says mother, Annie Kongshaug. “We will be following all of the scores from home!”
All in the Family
Belle, 15, and her younger sister, Clara, 13, have participated in PGA Jr. League, starting when they were each 8 years old. Their younger brother, Dominic, joined the fun this past summer as a 7-year-old.
“As parents, we love the format of the PGA Jr. League and how it promotes golf for kids of all ages,” Annie says. “We are so thankful to PGA Jr. League for providing such incredible opportunities for our children.”
Belle and Clara got their PGA Jr. League start at a program at their local course, but also began taking lessons with PGA Coach David Branstad at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minnesota. In 2021, when their local facility stopped offering PGA Jr. League, the Kongshaug family joined Branstad’s program.
That’s where the Kongshaugs crossed paths with the Birdwells. The brothers—Jake, now 17, Chase, 14, and Max, 11—have all participated in TPC Twin Cities’ PGA Jr. League program. First led by PGA Coach Jay Norman, who unexpectedly passed away in 2019, the program has continued to grow and excel, now under Branstad’s leadership.
“PGA Jr. League is just such a great way for our boys to learn to play as a team,” says Mandy Birdwell, the boys’ mother. “Over the years, our All-Star team has really gotten close. There’s just such great family and team bonding. It’s been a really awesome experience.”
Earlier this fall, both Belle and Chase got to watch their siblings play on the big stage. In October, both Clara and Max, 11, competed for Team Minnesota in the 2023 13u Championship at PGA Frisco. While the team didn’t win the Championship, the players focused on making the most of the experience.
“I’m excited to get to hang out with my friends and play a new course,” Max said in an interview before the 13u Championship, “but I’m really excited to play in the skills challenge and do all the fun things!”
Aces to Remember
Belle’s hole-in-one at the 2021 13u National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship was also her first.
“Having a hole-in-one on that big of stage is an amazing golf memory,” Belle says. “I got to be interviewed, and I got to see the behind-the-scenes in the ESPN trailer. Everyone was so friendly and congratulatory after hearing about my hole-in-one. It was a great experience!”
Chase understands that excitement, remembering his hole-in-one on Hole No. 8 of the same tournament while the ESPN cameras were rolling. The moment eventually made it to SportsCenter’s Top 10.
“We weren’t playing very well at that moment,” Chase recalls. “I got to the eighth hole and there were the cameras, but I tried not to think about it too much. When it went in, I ran over to my dad, sister and little brother.”
Playing on the National Stage
In 2021, 17u All-Stars were incorporated into the National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship Season, with their journey culminating at the Regional Championship level. This year marks the first-ever 17u Championship.
After playing in both age divisions, both the Birdwells and the Kongshaugs are thankful for the ways PGA Jr. League has shaped their children, on and off the course.
“We’ve seen their communication skills grow, and they’ve improved their ability to work as a team,” says Rich Birdwell, the boys’ father. “It’s also really nice to see them more laidback on the golf course — when you have a teammate you can count on, it puts them more at ease, and they routinely play better.”
Jordan Kongshaug, Belle and Clara’s father, agrees.
“Our kids have learned so much about being part of a team, handling pressure, and being successful on a national stage,” he says. “Belle also won the Division 2 Wisconsin State Championship this fall as a sophomore. Having the experience of playing the PGA Junior League Championship 13u was extremely helpful. These experiences have helped her build confidence.”