At the 2019 PGA Jr. League Championship presented by National Car Rental, 120 of the program's 60,000 young golfers from around the country had the opportunity to compete at the highest level at Grayhawk Golf Club’s challenging course.
The annual championship shone a spotlight on the PGA Jr. League as a whole and gave an up-close view of what makes the program so great for growing the game of golf among young athletes.
While there are many junior programs out there who 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.
One of the key contributors to the incredible growth of the program and enhancing the players’ experiences to the next level is the support of National Car Rental from the first tee shot in the spring to the final putt at the national championship each fall.
“In terms of National Car Rental’s support of PGA Jr. League, it’s been invaluable to the continued growth and success of the program,” said Steve Tanner, Director of PGA Jr. League. “During our rec seasons, they’ve enabled us to significantly improve the team kit every player receives, including high-quality home and away jerseys where kids can customize their number and coaches can customize the team name.”
Here are five things we learned while watching play and talking to players, parents and coaches about what makes PGA Jr. League such a success.
1. This is such a fun format
The match-play format that has been adapted by PGA Jr. League is just downright fun.
The 9-hole layout is perfect for keeping rounds quick and makes each shot count that much more. Additionally, the rules modifications to make all penalties a one-shot penalty — and all hazards lateral — makes learning the rules simple and keep 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 holes that go awry or portions of the course that might be more difficult for a team.
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2. 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 into 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, in the position for each athlete to succeed.
In addition, the league requires course setups 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 comradery and healthy competition
The team aspect of PGA Jr. League provides multiple opportunities for players to interact with each other and talk through how to play a shot.
The substitutes who walk along with the group play an integral role in reading putts, getting yardages and talking through shot strategy. The two players actively playing consistently talk through how they want to approach a shot and ask for advice on where a putt might break or if a risky shot is worth it. These conversations sound much like what you’d hear between a caddie and a tour pro on TV.
Good shots are met with cheers and bad shots are met with encouragement — for both fellow teammates and competitors.
Parents and PGA Professionals alike rave about the healthy nature of the competition of this program, from the first match of the season, all the way to the national championship.
“The fact that this competition puts them in a team setting, it just relaxes them and they can go play and have fun with their buddies," said Fred Hartman, a parent from Team North Carolina. “Parents can just stay out of the way and watch them and be fans.
“What National is doing for the kids and for the families is just second to none, and the fact that they would take care of the kids and also the moms and dads, we couldn’t be more appreciative or thankful. So, thank you, National.”
At the championship, that competition and comradery extend off the course, as well, through the National Car Rental All-Star Team Zone. This is a designated area for the players to hang out, grab a bite to eat and play arcade games — with the most popular area being the milkshake station. The All-Star Team Zone is wonderfully set up to enhance the bonds that these golfers are building with their teammates while also creating new friendships with golfers from around the country.
4. Fosters leadership opportunities
What happens when you add in that team aspect to a traditionally solo sport? Parents are seeing their children become leaders and mentors on their team, and those skills learned on the golf course are spilling over into other areas of their children’s lives at school and in other organizations.
For some kids, this experience 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 and a core reason why National Car Rental is passionate about supporting the PGA Jr. League.
5. 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 showcased at any PGA Jr. League event is that the kids out there are having the time of their lives.
Every young player speaks with the same adoration for their teammates and about how much fun they are having on the golf course.
And each year, National Car Rental is helping to make sure that the program only becomes more enjoyable for these players and their families. From the National Car Rental All-Star Players’ Lounge, adding the National Car Rental All-Star Parents’ Lounge at the course to a celebratory night at TopGolf to kick off the week’s festivities, the bar continues to be raised.
“During the postseason, (National Car Rental) enabled us to dramatically enhance the player and family experience at all levels of the competition, including our National Championship that is now televised annually,” Tanner said. “Many returning players, families, and coaches commented that they didn’t think we could make the national championship experience any better, but somehow we did — and National Car Rental is a big part of that.”
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 have as much fun as they do speaks volumes to the impact the program has had and will continue to have as it keeps growing around the country.