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The Words Golfers Never Want to Hear

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Since this story (and the future stories I will share) may not paint me in the best light, I decided to write under a pen name. Full disclosure: my employer also didn’t think it was cool that I would be writing for a golf website. 

My wife came to me other day and said the words you never want to hear from your spouse: “I think we should quit the country club.” The chain of events this set off inside my head was like nothing you can imagine. On second thought, you’re on GolfWRX, so you know exactly what went through my head. I’ll save all the details of conversation for another time, but for now I can tell you that I put on quite a show after she uttered those words.

The best way I can describe the next hour of my life is to compare it to how you act when your wife shuts down your request to play 18….the day after you just played 36. You know deep down you shouldn’t be asking to play again, but you give it a shot anyway. It sounds something like this: “Oh honey, I’ll cut the grass when I get home.” Or “How about after the round, I take you to that new restaurant you’ve been wanting to try?” Or “I know I played 36 today, but when I get back I’ll put a new roof on the house. Pleeeease.” We’ve all been there, and if you take that scenario and multiply it by 50, that’s where I was in my head.

At some point during this hour, I realized a couple of things. First, I realized golf is more than just a sport to me. It’s a way of life, something I love, and something I don’t want to give up. My day is constantly filled with thoughts of golf. The first thing I do when I get to work? I check out the GolfWRX Classifieds to see if anything interesting was posted since last night when I went to bed. Lunch break? I’ll check eBay for the golf-related items I’m watching. When I get home, I flip on the Golf Channel while I change out of my work clothes. It might not be healthy, but it’s my life, and like many of you, I’m OK with that.

The other thing I realized in that hour was that all of the people who have told me my life is like a sitcom were correct. I say this because, at one point, the thought crossed my mind to try to fake cry! At another point, I thought about making up a story about playing golf with my dad as a kid, the memories I had of it, blah blah blah. Somewhere in middle of all of that, I even contemplated acting as if I was having chest pains.

At the end of the day I didn’t do any of that. For the most part, I acted like an adult… sort of. To be clear, though, if you would have told me that any of those acts was a surefire way to end the conversation and keep my membership, I would have done it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, I know my acting skills suck and my wife can see right through them.

Her reason for wanting to quit was valid; it costs a lot of money. I can’t argue with that, because it’s true. I belong to one of the nicer country clubs in the area, and the golf course is the crown jewel. It hosts local qualifiers, USGA events, etc. and it’s less than 5 minutes from my house. It has a great practice facility with a full range, three practice greens, and a short game area. The fact that it is less than 5 minutes from my house is the cherry on top. When my wife looks at the club, she sees it as something standing between her and our next home-improvement project. After plenty of back and forth, we agreed that if I wanted to keep our membership, I had to come up with a way to offset some of the costs of the club.

After the conversation, I went straight to where I do my best work… well, the second-best place, which is my man cave/basement. My objective was clear; I had to come up with a way to make some money on the side, and I had to come up with it fast before my wife changed her mind. I did what any of us would do in this situation; I decided to hit some putts for a half hour to clear my head, and then I got started.

Since I’m a 7-handicap, turning pro was out of the question. I thought I could be a golf writer, but the life of a journalist isn’t for me. Then it hit me…. the thing where everyone thinks my life is a sitcom. That led me to the brilliant idea to share these stories and hope that I can somehow use them to help me keep my membership. I’m open to other ideas (or donations) if you got them.

To be honest, I don’t think my stories are out of the ordinary, but my co-workers and friends constantly tell me they are. Like the time my club-championship match went into a five-hole playoff and my wife had to go to a party by herself is a pretty good one.  Although the time I fell down the stairs while trying to sneak out of the house at 5 a.m. to play an early round is probably better.

The one my buddies enjoy is when I got caught putting fake calendar appointments in my wife’s phone that made us look busy on important days like Masters Sunday, the Ryder Cup, and my fantasy golf draft. To the say least, I have plenty of them, and her wanting to quit the club isn’t going away anytime soon. I’m sure that will lead to more. So I’m going to share all of the stories and see if it leads me to a way to keep my membership.

Wish me luck!

For feedback (or donations) please email me at j.ruggeri@yahoo.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at @Joey_Ruggeri. 

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Joe Ruggeri is a former collegiate golfer from Missouri who is probably one of the most competitive guys you will ever meet. He describes his non-golf profession as "what he has to do so he can fund his golf habit." Twitter: @Joey_Ruggeri Email: j.ruggeri@yahoo.com Youtube: coming soon

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37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. nobody2u

    Oct 30, 2017 at 2:35 am

    What man would rather not want to spend more time at home. He gets a fresh list of honey do’s and told how bad of a husband he has been for spending time with friends that applaud good shots are not so cynical when you light a cigar or open a beer. If you do that at home and her mother should suddenly drop in, what a lovely time that is. Then you have all of the stuff on TV that you are getting to miss when you could be spending the afternoon with the understanding laughing friends and cart girls or the cute waitresses in the 19th hole that are willing to get whatever you want at your little hearts desire. I don’t know what man would give up that comradery among friends to be able to spend some quality time with the unpleasant person at home. Give her a little boost to either spend some time at the pool, you can charge drinks or other things at the pool, or send her shopping, she has a million options and yours should not be impeded.

  2. Lance

    Oct 20, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    Currently, I’m entertaining a golf widow/model/trophy wife while old hubby is obsessed with his golf handicap and spends his days on the course and nights in the clubhouse.
    My club also has tennis courts and I met her playing tennis and it started from then. She’s so happy now. Me too.

    • Da Judge

      Oct 22, 2017 at 9:55 pm

      Wife: “Golf course or inter course…. choose!”
      Hubby: “Uuuum ….. “

  3. Travis

    Oct 19, 2017 at 9:09 am

    I stopped reading this in the very beginning when you talked about “asking for permission” to go play golf… how about you get into a relationship where you two respect what each other wants to do.

    I’ve never once had to “ask permission” to go play golf, nor does she ever “ask permission” to do her hobbies. We respect that those hobbies are each others’ passions, and that’s that.

    Do you also “ask permission” to sleep in the bed again and not the couch in the living room? Pathetic.

  4. nobody2u

    Oct 18, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    Your bragging about adultery, I don’t know if you are religious or Catholic, but, condemning yourself to the crimes of the flesh, you may want to re think at what you think is funny. I am not a Holy person but I promise you if I came in my home and found you trying to get out the window, you better be ready to have that thing you spent the last few seconds with to land on top of your point little head. See many of those golf widows don’t walk away with everything the man has worked his whole life for, so you may be acquiring a sweat little thing in your endeavors. And yes that is from experience, still glad that little fella did me such a great favor, I got the house and the kids, guess whats she’s doing,,, but not with me.

    • Lance

      Oct 20, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      Bitter bitter golf dude…. and fyi, all the golf widows come to my pad to get what they don’t get from their golfing hubby who prefers to spend time with his equally impotent buddies on the golf course.
      A neglected woman will seek loving companionship wherever she can find it…. and they find me … and there are so many of them. Once a couple of them came to me for ……. you know.

  5. Bob

    Oct 18, 2017 at 11:57 am

    A simple divorce should cure your problems

    • Barry

      Oct 18, 2017 at 4:46 pm

      Only if you’ve been smart enough to hide your assets from your wife

  6. Busty McBoob

    Oct 18, 2017 at 10:55 am

    I still don’t get the reasons for marriage other than we’re trained from a very young age that marriage is just something you’re supposed to do in life. All my married friends bitch and moan about all the time about their wives not ‘letting them’ do stuff. Man up, take your (non golf) balls back and tell her you’re not quitting the country club.

    • Lance

      Oct 19, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      Such man golfers are perpetual children seeking pleasure on the golf course… while I get pleasure from their golf widows.

  7. Eldrick T

    Oct 18, 2017 at 3:38 am

    I thought I was at a country club in California but somehow I ended up in a ditch in armpit Florida

  8. Eldrick T

    Oct 18, 2017 at 3:37 am

    There was only one fire hydrant outside my house

  9. Ben Jones

    Oct 17, 2017 at 11:07 pm

    My wife loved the country club. Man I miss those days! Camelot, yes it was. Then we had to move to somewhere where the courses are semi-private. What does that mean? It means crowded course, lousy tee times, and a chopped up practice area. Worst of all, the range balls are dead and the practice bunker is in the shank zone. Man, I miss that time.

  10. 8thehardway

    Oct 17, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    I wrote on this subject a decade ago and will share my still-valid observations.

    Share your heartfelt disclosures with your wife and suggest marriage counseling. The USGA secretly maintains a list of marriage counselors, attorneys and judges ranked by handicap and Country Club affiliation so you will probably find a sympathetic ear in your neighborhood… just mention my user name.

    If things don’t go well buy a home in Myrtle Beach and move divorce proceedings there… all decisions invariably favor the golfer and that includes custodial issues; be sure to mention how much you’ll save employing your children as caddies rather than paying those outrageous cart fees.

    If you insist on staying domiciled in your present location and your wife isn’t employed, suggest the virtues of being a cart girl… the extra income, the opportunity to see more of you on weekends, saving money on mid-round snacks and how she can gather valuable information on whose new equipment purchases aren’t working out (handy to know for wagers or inexpensive purchases).

    Above all, maintain your handicap and a positive outlook… women come and go but golf courses tend to linger.

    • Lance

      Oct 19, 2017 at 12:13 pm

      I feast on golf widows….. and they feast on me!

  11. MS

    Oct 17, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    Donation… Sorry ain’t goint to happen. Not a member of a private club, never have been, probably never will be. Best I can do is season pass as a public course.

  12. Milo

    Oct 17, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    1st world problems

  13. AJ

    Oct 17, 2017 at 12:56 am

    keep the club but she will be gone. Shes giving you an out take it from experience

    • Lance

      Oct 18, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      Golf widows are primed for nookie. I know.

  14. Judge Smeills

    Oct 16, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    Its not about the money, she just mentioned money because its better than saying that she hates golf and the amount of time you spend playing.

    • Lance

      Oct 20, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      Golf widows that I know well never complain about the time hubby spends at the country club …. and in fact encourages him to go play with the boys….. and then there’s me waiting and not for long ….lol

  15. Bullsfan

    Oct 16, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Been there and done that. Where did it get me, Divorced and on the hook for 20yrs. I get where you are coming from, I too am a lifelong golfer who has played collegiately and come from a long line of family golfers. It’s not a hobby, it truly is a life. I may not play or run a country club as my main source of employment, but for me and my family it’s the same. I was a member for 11 years at one of the most prestigious courses in my area, only 250 members and most had the money to buy 3rd world countries. So when the time came, 2007-08, in the middle of the downturn I had to give up my membership. Now other things happened personally and professionally that led to my divorce, but not being a member at my club anymore didn’t help my issues. Life hit hard and I had to reevaluate my life and what was important. Now today I have rebounded well, gainfully employed in my chosen field and remarried happily and fittingly enough live in a new home right across the street from a country club my parents were members at when I was growing up, but I haven’t joined! Would I like too, sure, but my lessons learned from my past is, it’s not the right time. I still play golf once, twice a week. I have friends all over my area who are either members or work at various clubs that I play with and for those times I’m not playing with them I pay my $30 and head out somewhere else and get my fix. What I’m saying is it’s not all that bad not having a membership. Would it be nice, sure. But there are other ways to play and enjoy tournaments and competition. You may want to look into these before your better half decides to do it for you.

    • sanjay

      Oct 16, 2017 at 8:01 pm

      $30?? A muni is not a country club….

      • CrashTestDummy

        Oct 17, 2017 at 2:21 am

        I have played a lot at both country clubs and public golf courses. Generally the shape of courses at country clubs are in better shape (especially the greens and bunkers). However, many public tracks are just as good if not better tracks that country clubs. You can still play good courses for 30-50 bucks in my area and really good courses for 60-80 bucks. Only a few are munis. Munis are not bad if the greens are decent and a decent track. You still have to hit good shots and play golf.

  16. Steve

    Oct 16, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Divorce her before you have children and you’re on her hook for 20 years.

  17. Acemandrake

    Oct 16, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    “We already have three.”

  18. sanjay

    Oct 16, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    Methinks you are misreading your wife’s suggestion to quit the country club. Perhaps her motives are justifiably selfish.
    When she says: “I think we should quit the country club.”….. she may be telling you she wants you to spend more quality time with her than with your buddies, playing 36 holes and then coming home and telling her “I’m too tired for that… maybe tomorrow.”
    The problem is that within most adult men there is a child who wants to play, for the pleasure… and with other men. Your fine wife is sending you a signal that everything is not fine with her because you want to play games rather than tending to her needs. Ya think…?!!

    • Mower

      Oct 16, 2017 at 7:28 pm

      Yep. It’s psychological jiu-jitsu. They’re trained from a very young age.

    • Lance

      Oct 18, 2017 at 12:16 pm

      I search out such golf widows and they are starved for companionship. Me like ….

  19. ray arcade

    Oct 16, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    And here I always thought it was “…you’re still away”.

    • sanjay

      Oct 16, 2017 at 3:27 pm

      Nice…. but women become gregarious when ignored and neglected for too long. In that case “…you’re still away” may be her opportunity to find pleasant companionship.

      • AW

        Oct 16, 2017 at 5:04 pm

        Maybe that’s the best solution if he can keep the membership. 🙂

        • sanjay

          Oct 16, 2017 at 7:59 pm

          Men who eschew sex for golf are …. well, you know…. the majority ….!

      • Lance

        Oct 18, 2017 at 12:18 pm

        Yup, I’ve had ‘companionship’ with many a golf widow.

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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Opinion & Analysis

Oh, To Be An (Oregon) Duck

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A few weeks ago I flew into Eugene, Oregon on a mission. I’d come to work with one my students who is a member of the Duck’s varsity golf team. I had never been further south than Seattle or further north than Monterey, so this part of the world was new to me.

What I did know was that the Bandon Dunes area had become a destination for some of the greatest golf in the world, rivaling other famed resorts around the country. The resort is just outside the quaint town of Bandon, which is a good two-hour drive from Eugene. The resort’s four courses — Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, and Old McDonald — each have their own personality, but at the same time they have one thing in common: the four architects that designed them took full advantage of the natural topography, deftly weaving holes in and out along the Oregon coastline.

I was looking forward to playing two of the courses before leaving: Pacific Dunes and Old McDonald. You may find this hard to believe, but those two rounds would be my first and second of the year after a busy summer season on the lesson tee. And for that very reason, I had no expectations other than to make a few pars and enjoy the scenery.

After retrieving my luggage from the turnstile, I made my way toward the exit with luggage in tow. My rental car was just across the street in an open-air lot and as I pushed through the airport doors, I was greeted by a gust of wind and a spray of rain. “Welcome to Eugene,” I thought to myself.

The sudden burst reminded me of playing in Scotland, where the rain gives way to sun only on occasion. I surmised that the weather in the Eugene would be similar. “Don’t forget your rain suit,” a fellow professional reminded me when I told him about my trip. As it turned out, that was good advice. He had been there before around the same time of year. “You’ll be lucky if you get one good day out of three,” he said.

As I drove through the area to my hotel, what struck me the most were the large hills that commanded the landscape and the thick white clouds that seemed to cling to them like giant cotton balls.  I found a comfortable hotel just outside Eugene in the small but quaint town of Cottage Grove. In charitable terms, you could characterize my hotel as “a tribute to the past.”

I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning, dressed and made my way downstairs to the lobby. The rain had continued through the night and as I prepared to leave the hotel,  it started to come down even harder. I stood in the lobby, waiting, while listening to the rain drops pounding on the roof,  a steady beat at first, then rising and falling like a conga drum.

I’d agreed to meet my student at 10 a.m. for a practice session and then he was slated to play nine holes with the team later in the afternoon. Based on the weather, I was concerned that the day might be a total rain-out. What I didn’t know at the time was that the school has a portable canopy that allowed the team, rain or shine, to practice on natural grass. I ran to my car ducking rain drops. The forecast called for a chance of sun in the afternoon. And this time the weather man was  right.

That afternoon I was invited to watch my student and the rest of Casey Martin’s boys play a quick nine holes at Eugene Country Club, the team’s home course. The layout is one of the most unusual that I’ve ever seen with giant trees bordering every fairway. The tips seemed to stretch up and up into the sky, piecing the low-hanging clouds above, as if they were marshmallows on a stick.

The Ducks have fielded a strong team the past two years, winning the NCAA Division 1 Championship in 2016 and then finishing second this year. A good deal of credit for that accomplishment goes to Casey Martin, who has coached the Ducks since 2006. For those who are too young to remember, Casey Martian was a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford University. He later competed on the Nike Tour. Casey earned his PGA Tour card in 1999 by finishing 14th on the Nike Tour, but his earnings through the 2000 season were not enough for him to retain his card, relegating him to once again to playing on the development tour. He played sporadically up through 2006. The following year, Casey assumed the job of Head Coach, which brought him back to his native Eugene.

In earlier years, Martin’s play career as a professional was hindered by the fact that he could not play 18 holes without a golf cart due to a birth defect in his right leg. The PGA Tour Board ruled against his use of a cart, maintaining that the physical act of walking was considered an integral part of the competition. Believing that he was in the right, Casey filed a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. His case made its way to the Supreme Court where he won. As for his competitive record, by his own admonition, he is disappointed that he didn’t play better as a professional. A primary focus of his coaching then, as he conceded, is to teach his players not to make the same mistakes he did in his own career. What struck me as unique was the passion and intensity with which he coached. I would venture that it’s the same level of intensity that he brought to the golf course when he competed.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a closed-door, defensive-team practice at Duke University with Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) on the floor. He had divided the team into two groups with one at either end of the court competing against each other. His legs straddled the center line as if he were Colossus with his head swiveling back and forth as if on a stick. The impression was that he saw everything and be never missed anything. And then when he saw a player make a mistake, he would blow his whistle sharply. The players would immediately stop moving as if they were frozen in place. And then, in peg-leg style, he would hobble across the floor favoring one leg over the other. He was clearly in need of a hip replacement at the time.

I’ve had both of my hips replaced, so I could easily imagine the pain that he was experiencing as he peg-legged it from the center of the court to either end. I suspected that he had decided that surgery would have to wait. The season was just a few weeks away, and given that his team was largely composed of freshman, he could not afford to miss a day. Casey Martin doesn’t blow a whistle, nor does he run a defense practice, but as he climbs out of his cart, deftly working his way to a vantage point where he can see his players from every angle, I’m reminded of the halting walk of Coach K.

There is something else that these two man share in common — an intense desire to win. They settle for nothing less than great. And when you look into their eyes, you can see that there is an intensity that burns from within that is vastly different from the man on the street.

As you might remember, I was scheduled to play a round on Pacific Dunes and another on Old McDonald. The two courses are both spectacular layouts with ocean views. And the weather… I drew two perfect days, defying the odds my friend had laid down. It was sunny and 65 degrees with just a hint of wind. How did I play? Let’s just say that I made a few pars. What I found was that striking the ball well is no guarantee that you will score low on these courses. The green complexes are diabolical. The best advice I can give you is to throw you scorecard away. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

The next morning, I was on an early morning flight back to Minneapolis only to discover that we were experiencing Indian Summer with temperatures 20 degrees warmer than usual. But as Minnesotans, we all know what is waiting for us just around the corner.

I’ll leave you with this thought. After watching Casey Martin and the players on his team play and practice, I’m sure of one thing. And that’s when next year’s NCAA Championship comes around, Casey Martin will have all of his Ducks in a row.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Kids Are Alright: Spike in Junior Golf Participation a Good Sign for Game’s Future

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This week, eight 10-player All-Star teams representing regions from across the country will converge upon Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., to compete in the 6th PGA Junior League Championship.

The teams – New Hampshire (Northeast), California (West), Georgia (Southeast), Ohio (Mideast), Illinois (Midwest), New Jersey (Mid-Atlantic), Arkansas (Mississippi Valley), and Texas (Southwest) – will be divided into two divisions where they will face off in round-robin, 9-hole matches using a two-person, scramble format of play. Teams are captained by PGA/LPGA Professionals.

Since the PGA of America launched PGA Junior League in 2012, participation has skyrocketed from about 1,800 players the first year to a record-setting 42,000 boys and girls age 13 and under participating on 3,400 teams across the country this year.

“Junior golf is a key priority of the PGA of America and we recognize that increasing youth participation in the game is essential to the future of our industry and sport,” said Suzy Whaley, PGA of America Vice President and PGA Director of Instruction at Suzy Whaley Golf in Connecticut.

“PGA Jr. League is a fun and welcoming opportunity for boys and girls of all backgrounds and skill levels to learn, play, and love golf under the expert instruction and guidance of PGA and LPGA Professionals. It’s team-oriented and kids wear numbered jerseys. It’s transforming traditional junior golf and the numbers prove it.”

Whaley believes the team concept and scramble format are major factors in PGA Jr. League’s rapid growth over the last five years. In fact, she says, the program is re-shaping the golf industry’s view of the way junior golf is typically learned and played.

“Other youth sports have been utilizing the team format for years and it’s a natural fit for golf,” said Whaley, who has taken three teams to the Jr. League Championships. “The scramble format provides for a low-pressure environment. We’ve created a team atmosphere that has broad appeal. Parents and kids enjoy being a part of the community that PGA/LPGA Professional Captains create. In this team setting, older, more experienced players mentor the younger, beginner golfers. There’s no pressure on any one player, and it’s great to see kids pull for one another versus the individual focus generally associated with golf.”

“It is a program that creates a family-centered atmosphere that encourages mom, dad, brothers, sisters, and grandparents to become involved, as well. During PGA Jr. League matches, the parents are part of the match keeping score, posting photos on social media and encouraging all players. PGA Jr. League grows lifetime interest in the game across multiple generations.”

Matthew Doyle of the Connecticut team gathers for a photo with team captain, Suzy Whaley during session three for the 2016 PGA jr. League Golf Championship presented by National Rental Car held at Grayhawk Golf Club on November 20, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Traci Edwards/PGA of America)

Fourteen-year-old Cullen Laberge from Farmington, Conn., is a student in the Suzy Whaley Golf program and has competed at the PGA Jr. League Championships for Team Connecticut. Laberge has been playing for four years and says his Jr. League experience really sparked his interest in the game and his desire to become a better player and ultimately a golf teacher one day.

“It has taught me so much about golf, while keeping it fun and interesting,” Laberge said. “The thing I enjoy the most is playing competitive golf without the stress that tournament golf can sometimes bring. No matter age or skill level, Jr. League keeps it fun and no matter how a player is playing there is another player to pick them up. That national championship was the best experience of my life. It was like I was playing on the PGA Tour. I loved the amazing competition; those players were good.”

And it’s not just golf’s executives and Jr. League participants who have taken notice of the program’s growth and the ultimate importance that growth represents for the future of the game. PGA and LPGA professionals including Rory McIlroy, Ricky Fowler, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie have all joined as ambassadors for the program.

“I want to do everything I can to be a positive influence on kids who are interested in the game and serving as an ambassador for PGA Jr. League is a great fit,” said Wie. “There are so many lessons that kids can learn and that adults can reinforce through the game of golf – good sportsmanship, honesty, integrity, work ethic. Golf can help you learn how to react when things don’t go your way which I think is a really important skill to have in life.”

“Golf can definitely mirror life. You can work incredibly hard and still fall short, but how do you bounce back? How do you overcome a mistake or a bad break and still succeed? It’s important for kids to grow up with a good work ethic and the right attitude to face challenges. Golf is a great game to teach those lessons.”

Copyright Picture : Mark Pain / IMG (www.markpain.com)

Wie says the more inclusive and welcoming the golf community in general can be, the better.

“Especially as a young female, I have experienced plenty of times where I did not feel welcome or felt like I had to prove myself more than the guys did,” Wie said. “Golf is a game that should be available to everyone and I think it’s important to make it accessible to kids whether they are a future tour pro or a future 20-handicapper.”

The folks over at the USGA know a thing or two about growing the game and making it more accessible and they should, they’ve been doing it since the association’s founding in 1894.

The inaugural three USGA championships – the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1895 – did not have age limits, each simply aiming to identify the champion golfer. In 1948, the USGA held the first United States Junior Amateur solely open to players under the age of 18 and just one year later the association conducted the first United States Girls’ Junior Championship.

In addition to helping fund The First Tee, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, and the Drive, Chip and Putt Championships, the USGA recently introduced its “For the Good of the Game” grant program to promote a more welcoming and accessible game at the local level with millions of dollars offered to local communities to build programs.

“The greatest misperception is accessibility,” says Beth Major, Director of Community Outreach at the USGA. “Two-thirds of all golf courses in America are open to the public. Kids and parents still believe it is a country club sport and we need to change that.”

Founded in 2013 as a joint initiative between the USGA, the Masters Tournament, and the PGA of America, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a free nationwide junior golf competition for boys and girls ages 7-15 aimed at growing the game. Participants who advance through local, sub-regional and regional qualifying earn a place in the National Finals, which is conducted the Sunday before The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Drive, Chip and Putt qualifying is offered in all 50 states and participation in the event has increased each year.

“We have a great partnership with our friends at the PGA of America and the Masters Tournament,” Major said. “Our leaders realized that by pooling our resources at the national level while activating at the local level, we could quickly scale the program and get more kids involved.”

“Going into our sixth year, it is amazing to see how far the program has grown and the entry point we’ve created together to keep our youth engaged. We look forward to continuing to evolve the program to welcome more youth to the sport.”

The USGA, in partnership with the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, and the PGA TOUR, founded The First Tee in 1997 specifically to answer the call for diversity and inclusion. The program has welcomed millions of new players to the game in the past 20 years by focusing not only on teaching golf skills but life and social skills such as etiquette, honesty, respect, confidence and responsibility.

Founded in 1989, the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program is aimed at girls ages 6-17 and has played a critical role in not only welcoming girls and women to the game, but perhaps equally importantly keeping them in the game.

“Statistics continually show us that the social aspects of the game drive girls and women to play golf,” Major said. “That sense of camaraderie and building friends greatly outweighs their need to compete at the entry level. LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, quite simply, has made it fun and cool for girls to play – and play together. And the results are astounding. We have traced more than 100 girls who started in an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program that played in a USGA championship last year. They have not only introduced the game to girls and young women, they kept them in the game, and that is very exciting and inspiring.”

One company is tackling growth of the game from another angle – the equipment side.

Since its very beginning back in 1997, U.S. Kids Golf has been focused on its mission, “To help kids have fun learning the lifelong game of golf and to encourage family interaction that builds lasting memories.

To that end, the company began developing youth clubs starting out with just three sizes and one product line initially.

“Over time, through watching youth golfers, we came to realize that we were not serving them as well as we would like,” said Dan Van Horn, U.S. Kids Golf founder. “Looking at how the best players in the world – LPGA and PGA Tour – are fit for clubs, we discovered the proportion of their drive length to height was from 60-70 percent. From that we created what we term the ‘2/3 solution.’ Simply put, for every 3 inches a player grows, we offer a set that has a driver that is 2 inches longer.”

Importantly, it is not just the length of the clubs that increase as the player grows but also the overall club weight, grip size and shaft stiffness. At the same time, the loft on woods decreases providing additional distance.

“One of the key benefits of correctly fit clubs that are lightweight is the ability for players to learn a correct and powerful swing at a young age,” Van Horn said. “Clubs that are too long and/or heavy slows the golf swing itself and creates bad habits that are difficult to change later in life.”

Beyond the importance of young golfers needing properly fit equipment, Van Horn believes strongly in the need for juniors to compete in tournament play to facilitate aspirational goals and to measure progress. Going hand in hand with this is proper instruction from coaches who understand how young players learn and develop.

“After a few years of producing equipment, we realized more needed to be done to serve our market so we formed a nonprofit foundation,” Van Horn said. “Immediately we created our World Championship in 2000 so that young golfers would have an aspirational goal, much like the Little League World Series is to baseball players. We also realized that golf professionals and coaches lacked an organized incentive-based learning program to truly engage players in the game so we created one that same year.”

A longtime proponent of having players play from appropriate yardages, U.S. Kids Golf developed the Longleaf Tee System which uses a mathematical formula to “scale” any golf course for up to eight different tee locations per hole so all players have options based upon how far they carry the ball with a driver. Yardages start at 3,200 yards for 18 holes and increase up to Tour distances of 7,400 yards.

“What we need is a focus by all golf facilities and coaches to provide quality, enjoyable experiences to our youth,” Van Horn said. “This means incorporating game-based learning with a measurable, learning program so that players and their parents know how they are progressing. And, of course, shorter tees need to be available so we can get kids on a ‘field’ that fits them like other sports. There’s no question it can be done.”

The National Golf Foundation’s annual report for 2016 revealed that participation in junior golf programs remained steady at 2.9 million likely due in part to the success of the programs mentioned above and others just like them. Importantly, the number of female junior golfers has increased to a third of all participants and the number of non-Caucasion players has risen to a quarter, four times what it was a couple of decades ago.

While time will ultimately judge whether these programs and offerings serve not only to retain current players but continue to attract new ones, the state of junior golf in the country appears strong and on the right track for now. 

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