By Paul S. Simon
As the Augusta National Golf Club is concluding its 81st Masters Golf Tournament, we at Sage Valley Golf Club are preparing for our Seventh Annual Junior Invitational Golf Tournament. This tournament begins with two days of practice rounds, on Tuesday, April 18, and ends after three days of competition on Saturday, April 22.
It was our goal from the beginning to attract the best junior golfers in the world to compete in our tournament. Our Invitations Committee has done an outstanding job in this regard. We invite, at the tournament’s expense, the top 54 junior golfers throughout the world. We pay their round-trip cost to Augusta, provide them room and board for the week and furnish them with a caddie for practice and for the tournament.
This year we will have 50 percent of the field from the United States and the other 50 percent from 17 countries around the world. The countries represented will be Australia, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Norway, South Korea, South Africa, Sweden, Malaysia, Spain and 15 states from the United States. First-time countries are Spain and Malaysia. Including 2017, we have had 34 countries and 34 U.S. states represented in our tournaments. One of this year’s players, Won Jun Lee from South Korea, will be returning for the fifth time.
After only two tournaments, we had one of our participants, Matthew Fitzpatrick from England, compete in the Masters as an amateur. With a T44 finish at the 2013 Open Championship and a T48 finish at the 2014 U. S. Open, Matthew became the first amateur since Bobby Jones in 1930 to hold low amateur titles at The Open Championship and U. S. Open at the same time.
In 2016, we had five of our participants compete in the Masters, three making the cut with one finishing in the top ten. This year, 2017, we have five competing. They are Emiliano Grillo from Argentina, Brad Dalke from the United States, Curtis Luck from Australia, Justin Thomas from the United States and Matthew Fitzpatrick from England. Brad and Curtis are competing as amateurs. Matthew qualified by being in the top 12 in the 2016 Masters. Emiliano and Justin qualified by ending 2016 in the top 50 money winners, qualifying for the 2016 Tour Championship. Justin also was a winner of a PGA tour event.
I list these accomplishments to let you know the quality of players we have competing in the Junior Invitational.
The practice rounds provide an opportunity for sponsors, amateurs and special guests to play a round of golf with the contestants. Also, in each foursome is a member of The First Tee. It is a real pleasure to play a round of golf with a member of The First Tee and with one of the competitors in the Junior Invitational. It is easy for one to see the benefits the membership in The First Tee provides to its members. Not only can one recognize the quality of golf, but the values taught. Namely, honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment can be seen in the behavior of these kids. It is a pleasure to be with them.
The cost to play in the Amateur Competition is $2,500. A portion of this amount will be tax-deductible. The fee includes the round of golf, either Tuesday or Wednesday, with a professional caddie; opening ceremony and banquet Tuesday evening; breakfast and lunch with VIP access to the tournament; and an exclusive trip to Nike’s Digital Tournament Solutions Mobile Pro Shop. The Opening Ceremony and Banquet will feature Charlie Rymer, co-host of Golf Channel’s Morning Drive. There are a few slots left for this event. If you are interested, you may call Elaine Barnhill at (864) 414-4182.
A tournament such as this cannot be successful without a dedicated force of volunteers. I want to thank all of them. I especially want to recognize and thank the PGA Rules Officials. During play, each threesome has a walking PGA rules official with them throughout the tournament. This provides constant support and assistance to these young players. Because of these volunteers, The Junior Invitational at Sage Valley continues to be ranked the No. 1 junior golf tournament in the world.
Net proceeds from the tournament go toward supporting The First Tee in Aiken, The First Tee in Augusta, SVJI Sports Foundation and the Press On Fund. In the short life of the Junior Invitational, we have been able to contribute more than $1 million to The First Tee Program.
I encourage you to come over to Sage Valley Golf Club as a spectator. You will experience some excellent golf and through your participation will be supporting junior golf. The fee at the gate is only $5 for the three days, which includes parking. Come and join me in watching these future champions of golf.
(The writer is chairman emeritus of The Junior Invitational at Sage Valley and chairman emeritus of The Augusta First Tee.)