Our goals last year were twofold. We wanted to raise funds for The First Tee National, The First Tee Augusta and The First Tee Aiken; and we wanted to present the best junior golf tournament possible. Wow! I believe we were successful in both endeavors. We donated $200,000 to The First Tee. Golf Week magazine ranked the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club as the No. 1 junior golf tournament in the world – in our first year!
Because of the Golf Week ranking and the reputation generated by the inaugural tournament, only 57 invitations were necessary to fill the 54 player slots for the 2012 tournament. The tournament pays transportation, food and housing costs, and furnishes players a caddie for the tournament. Contestants are required to remain on the grounds during their stay.
THIS YEAR, 17 countries and 19 U.S. states are represented. These contestants from around the world and from different backgrounds will spend a week together at Sage Valley. We observed the interaction between the players last year, and believe that bringing these kids together in this setting offers great benefits for the future of our world.
We are making two major changes this year.
The days of the tournament are changed, and this year the three-day tournament will begin Friday April 20, and conclude Sunday, April 22.
Also, one hour of the tournament was delayed-broadcast on CBS last year. In 2012, four hours of the tournament will be delayed-broadcast on the Golf Channel. This change will give more opportunity to see the future champions of golf from around the world play. Again this year we will have electronic scoring, so parents and others will have the opportunity to keep up with play, over the Internet, as it happens.
Last year, Tim Finchem, president of the Professional Golf Association, was our keynote speaker. Professional golfers Jay and Bill Hass also spoke to the contestants. This year, former President George W. Bush, honorary chairman of the National First Tee, will give the keynote speech.
During the week, Jim Holtgrieve, the current captain of the Walker Cup team, and professional golfer Lucas Glover also will be in attendance. Last year, several college coaches came to observe these top junior golfers, and we expect they will return this year.
Each year, as part of our fund-raising program, a contestant-amateur event is held the Wednesday and Thursday before the tournament. We provide the opportunity to play in the event with one of the tournament contestants at a cost of $2,500 for a slot or $6,000 for a threesome. This event with 162 slots is now sold out.
THE BENEFICIARIES of the tournament this year will again be the First Tee organizations. Having been involved with the Augusta chapter of The First Tee since its inception, I have seen hundreds of boys and girls from all walks of life benefit from the programs offered. Opportunities for scholarships and participation in golf tournaments throughout the United States are available.
But golf is secondary to more important benefits of The First Tee. Participants must learn and put into practice the nine core values taught – honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment. It is a real pleasure to be around a “First Tee Kid.”
Electrolux, the presenting sponsor of the tournament, again will erect a pavilion where they will display some of their merchandise. You will want to see this, and you could win one of their products. Throughout that week you also will have the opportunity to bid on a variety of silent auction items.
Our first tournament was successful because we had what it takes to put on a golf tournament of this magnitude. We had financial support, a force of committed volunteers, world-ranked players and a first-class venue. I thank our sponsors, our volunteers and Weldon and Tom Wyatt, owners of Sage Valley Golf Club.
Weldon and I began planning this annual tournament about four years ago. We hope it will continue to grow as a charitable effort for many years. You can help us achieve this goal. You or your company can become a sponsor; make a donation; participate in the contestant-amateur event; become a volunteer; or come out and watch these talented kids play. Tickets are available at the Savannah River Banking Co. or at the gate. Daily tickets cost $15, and tickets for all three days cost only $20. Clubhouse badges also are available, which include lunch. Concessions will be available on the course, including sandwiches, soft drinks, chips, candy and ice cream.
We hope that you will come out to Sage Valley Golf Club and join the gallery.
See you on the course!
(The writer is the chairman of Sage Valley Golf Club’s Junior Invitational.)