Category - Amateur Programs
'The Future of Our Game' : How the PGA Jr. League Scholarship Fund Changes Lives
By Hayden Lewis, PGA
(Brittany Siechen / Central New York PGA)
It’s no secret the game of golf is spanning far and wide – across major cities, state borders and even overseas. One of the most significant trends is how golf is becoming multi-generational, transforming into more than just a game but a connecting point for people of all backgrounds and abilities.
Just this past week in Rome, Italy, the 44th Ryder Cup galvanized the golf world once again in an epic showdown of the world’s best players at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club.
But this is just a small glimpse into how the game impacts lives.
According to recent data shared by the National Golf Foundation, over 3.4 million juniors are playing golf – the highest level since 2006. Just over the past three years, the junior segment has seen the most significant rise of any on-course participation segment and remains more diverse than the overall golf population.
One of the driving forces behind this uptick is PGA Jr. League, a youth golf program that's creating more access for boys and girls through its Scholarship Fund. Funded by PGA REACH, the 501(c)(3) charitable foundation of the PGA of America, the Scholarship Fund is removing barriers and opening doors for families to create lifelong memories through experiences that transcend golf.
And at Sunnycrest Park Golf Course in Syracuse, New York, an unlikely duo has stepped up to bring new players to the game. This past summer, PGA of America Golf Professional Sean Dadey and local P.E. Teacher and Coach, Erik Saroney used the Scholarship Fund to pilot a brand new PGA Jr. League Program serving 11 boys and girls in the Syracuse City School District.
As the PGA of America Head Professional at nearby Drumlins Country Club, Sean says he’s never seen the game surge in participation as much as it has over the past three years.
“I can’t remember there being a boom this big in the game of golf,” he notes. “There have been more women and children coming to the game than ever before – at least here in the northeast. I think a lot of this lends itself to what the pandemic has provided for our game. People just want to be out here.”
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On top of being a teacher and a basketball coach, Erik also serves as the combined golf coach for the Syracuse City School District. He also sits on the Central New York PGA REACH Board, where he works hand-in-hand with Sean and other team members to bring golf to communities across the Section through its robust programming.
With the role of coach essentially ingrained in his DNA, he wanted to do more than sit on the sidelines when bringing PGA Jr. League to Syracuse.
“My son is 16 now, but he grew up on the junior tour and played in various PGA Jr. League matches,” explains Erik. “I’ve seen first-hand how the game of golf can impact a young person’s life.”
This pilot program was a long-time vision coming to light for not just the Syracuse community, but the entire Central New York PGA Section. Erik notes that it’s actually an easy way to transition to golf for a lot of kids who were already involved in other youth sports.
“As a teacher and a coach, it’s truly a no-brainer,” says Erik. “The way PGA Jr. League so easily relates golf to other team sports is excellent and actually makes the game more inviting for those kids who wouldn’t normally have access to playing the game.”
The Central New York PGA Section staff is sustaining the vision and continuously growing more interest in the game of golf throughout Upstate New York. Section CEO and Executive Director, Alan Seamans, PGA, says this program is bringing a new energy to the Section and it’s just the beginning.
“I just couldn’t be more proud of the work Erik and Sean are doing,” says Alan. “Now our job is to take this vision that has been established at Sunnycrest and multiply it. It’s a tremendous achievement and I’m just so proud to see it come to light the way it has.”
As the Central New York Section’s Honorary President, a native of Syracuse and an alumni of Syracuse University, Sean has a particular affinity for this community. He fell in love with the game early on through his grandfather and found that sharing the game with others was his ultimate passion.
While golf remains the center of his career, he believes this new program is going beyond just a game – it’s connecting a new community.
“We’re more than just PGA of America Golf Professionals, and this is more than just about country clubs, public golf facilities, or resorts, right? It’s about making friends, rebuilding families,” says Sean.
"It’s sort of our superpower – PGA of America Golf Professionals have that innate ability to connect different communities through the game of golf."
Sean Dadey, PGA
Erik and Sean are hoping this is just a starting point for the future growth of the PGA Jr. League Scholarship Fund in Central New York. Erik hopes this can become, more or less, a real-life example of a success story of using the Scholarship Fund – inspiring others to get involved through their facilities and communities.
“The level of exposure to golf that this group of students received is what makes the Scholarship Fund so unique and life-changing,” says Erik. “I think other PGA of America Golf Professionals have a real opportunity to impact communities here.”
As the PGA Jr. League world celebrates the end of another successful season this week at Fields Ranch in Frisco, Texas, for the National Car Rental 13u PGA Jr. League Championship, there truly is so much to cheer on. From Rome, Italy to Syracuse, New York – the ripple effects from the game continue to spark lifelong connections, friendships and so much more.
“This is all about the bigger picture,” says Sean. “PGA Jr. League is the future of our game – this is where it starts for many of these kids who may want to work in the industry one day. I’m just proud that Erik, myself, and the rest of our Section get to play a small part in that.”
To learn more or to donate to the PGA Jr. League Scholarship Fund, please visit here.