The tradition of featuring high-profile speakers for the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club will remain intact.
Jack Nicklaus, six-time Masters Tournament winner and golf’s all-time leader with 18 major championship victories, is scheduled to speak to tournament players and invited guests on Wednesday, April 24.
The third annual Junior Invitational will be held April 26-28 at the private club in Graniteville and features an elite field of 54 junior golfers.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem presented the trophy at the inaugural event in 2011, and last year former President George W. Bush addressed the players before the tournament.
“We’re extremely thrilled to have him coming,” tournament chairman Tom Wyatt said. “It’s a rare opportunity to get someone of that caliber to come speak at your event. Obviously, it’s good for the tournament and the area to have him come and speak.”
Nicklaus will return to the Augusta area about two weeks after his annual appearance at the Masters. Nicklaus, 72, has won at Augusta National Golf Club more than any other golfer and is now an honorary starter along with Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
Wyatt, who helped his father, Weldon, develop Sage Valley, recalled the first time he saw Nicklaus at the Masters. It was during a practice round.
“He was in the first group I saw walking up the fairway, and I think I used a whole roll of film,” Wyatt said. “I guess my finger got frozen.”
Even though Nicklaus retired from tournament golf in 2005, Wyatt doesn’t think the junior golfers will mind.
“It really doesn’t matter which generation you are, everyone knows what Jack Nicklaus has meant to golf,” Wyatt said. “Even if they’re enamored with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, I think they’re all going to be impressed with having Nicklaus there. It’s Jack Nicklaus. The guy dominated the game for so long.”
The first wave of player invitations have been sent out, tournament director Elaine Barnhill said, and the field will be finalized in March.
One new wrinkle for this year will be a tougher closing stretch at Sage Valley, Wyatt said.
The 17th hole was transformed from a short par-4 into a demanding hole that can play as long as 490 yards. The green was moved back 35 yards and to the left, and brings a pond into play.
The 18th hole has a new tee box and a back portion of the green was expanded. The hole now can play as long as 465 yards and requires a 240-yard carry over the creek that bisects the fairway.
Tom Fazio, the course’s original architect, made the changes.
“Obviously in this tournament you have the best of the best playing,” Wyatt said. “We want to provide the best test for them.”