Youth movement

Love of golf among young people worldwide is fostered in Augusta area

Some people still misjudge golf as exclusively an older person’s sport.


Really, now – where do you think older golfers come from?

We’ll tell you where – from places such as the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.

More than 17,000 boys and girls ages 7 to 15 competed in local and regional qualifiers to win one of 88 coveted spots in the finals Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club. Competitors were scored after executing their best drives and chips, and their best putts from distances of 6, 20 and 30 feet. Eight winners topped their age brackets.

This is the event’s first year, a team effort by the Augusta National, the U.S. Golf Association and the PGA of America. The young golfers got to use the club’s Tournament Practice Range facilities, the clubhouse putting green and the National’s iconic 18th hole.

“The Masters always does everything first-class,” said Kathy Padgett, a visiting golf coach from Tiburon Tour Academy in Naples, Fla. “To provide such an environment for nurturing young golfers, this will do miles for them.”

The Augusta area has long been synonymous with golf, but in recent years has moved to the forefront of encouraging youth golf. Across the Savannah River, later this month, the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club will get underway. Only three years old, the invitation-only tournament showcases the best junior golfers from around the world, and already is widely considered to be the best junior tournament on the planet.

And no discussion of younger golfers can continue without mentioning The First Tee, the wonderful national organization that encourages and cultivates the best traits in its members. The First Tee takes the lessons of golf and passes them on to children as lessons for life – how to set goals, manage emotions, resolve conflicts and even how to communicate better. Other sports arguably impart similar lessons, but none in the way that golf does, especially when it comes to respecting others and respecting yourself.

The burgeoning youth movement in golf isn’t just encouraging for the game of golf itself. It provides a framework to allow children to grow into better, responsible adults – and have fun doing it.

You find that refreshing mix of poise and enthusiasm in Drive, Chip and Putt golfers such as California’s Kelly Xu, who at age 9 became the first female golfer Sunday to notch a tournament victory at the Augusta National. How many fourth-graders make history like that?

A lot of folks were fortunate enough to see all these sharp kids perform Sunday. If you didn’t see it live and in person, you might have caught it on the Golf Channel, where they devoted five hours of coverage to it. Imagine how many kids saw the finals unfold on TV and got bitten by the golfing bug.

The energy of the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals was overwhelming – both from the kids who competed and the adults who marveled at them. The newest tradition of Masters Week combined superb athletic fun with an important sense of purpose.



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