Texas has always been a hot breeding ground of top junior talent. While there have been a few notable move-ins like Lighthorse Harry Cooper (England), Lanny Wadkins (Virginia) and Hunter Mahan (California), the vast majority of great junior players have been born and bred here in the Lone Star State.
Now, in an idea so brilliant you wonder what took it so long to come about, the four major golf organizations in the state, the Texas Golf Association, the Northern and Southern Texas sections of the PGA of America and the Houston Golf Association, have come together to form the Texas Junior Golf Alliance.
Together these organizations already offer playing opportunities to more than 5,000 juniors with 500-plus tournaments. Now, they will funnel all significant junior golf toward the Legends Junior Golf Tour.
Entry eligibility for Legends Junior Tour events will be determined by a statewide points list, which will be available on each Texas Junior Golf Alliance member’s website. Juniors will have dual membership in their respective programs and the Texas Junior Golf Alliance for a single membership fee. Each organization will offer a select number of Texas Junior Golf Alliance Points Tournaments in their respective 2012 schedule.
Northern Texas PGA (16 events), Southern Texas PGA and HGA (eight events each) and TGA Legends Junior Tour (15 events) combine to offer 47 points events. Competitors also may accumulate points in the seven open tournaments and one invitational event operated in Texas by the national American Junior Golf Association (AJGA).
By combining the vast majority of the junior golf opportunities into one centralized section, organizers hope it will make it easier, cheaper and less stressful for top Texas juniors to find top-flight competition in their respective areas.
“The junior golf landscape in Texas can be intimidating and expensive to negotiate for beginning players and veterans alike,” said Rob Addington, executive director of the Texas Golf Association and one of the leading organizers in the new junior golf enterprise.
“Everyone involved hopes this will clear the path toward advancement while reassuring them of the quality of the events they are competing in. We are all really proud of coming together like this, putting our skills sets together and doing what’s best for junior golf in Texas.”
Since 2006, TGA and the two local PGA of America sections have run the Legends Junior Tour, but by adding the Houston Golf Association and instituting a statewide points system it gives Texas players more chances to play statewide against better competition.
The new format with its points system will offer golfers a pyramid model from beginners up to the higher skilled. It will show where they can play, against whom and in what region of the state, moving up as they get better as a player.
“Kids in this program will no longer have to travel all over the country to participate in quality events,” said Mark Harrison, Northern Texas PGA executive director. “We’ll have outstanding competition, conducted at the highest level of administration, on a wide variety of exceptional golf courses. This is a great day for junior golf in Texas.”
“Being in the program can serve as a road map to newcomers to the game,” added Mike Ray, executive director of the Southern Texas PGA. “In fact, it certainly will give them something to look forward to as they progress.”
By joining their individual organizations depending on what part of the state they live in, they automatically will become members of the new golf alliance, saving them and their parents money, and giving college coaches a central place to look for promising talent.
“Growing the game and easing the financial burden and travel demands on players and their families can be nothing but a win-win situation,” said Steve Timms, president/CEO of the Houston Golf Association.
Addington said the idea started to grow during a series of detailed planning meetings last fall and began in earnest this winter.
“It’s great exposure for the kids and the college coaches,” he said. “It’s reasonable, economical and good for golf. ”
Another new and interesting concept for juniors and amateur golfers at a higher level is being advanced by longtime Texas golf professionals Mark Steinbauer, from The Woodlands, Tom Relf, from San Antonio and Brad Lardon, from College Station.
The three golf teaching veterans and others are forming the first U.S. National Golf team for boys and girls.
It’s very common for almost every other national golf federation anywhere in the world to form and promote a national golf team of promising junior players and compete nationally and internationally.
The lack of top American juniors in worldwide competition or on the PGA Tour shows the time may be right for a U.S. National team in golf.
“Every other country has a national team and we never have. This is a chance to get exposure and seasoning for top players and future stars,” said Steinbauer, the director of golf at Carlton Woods Golf Club in The Woodlands and the new Central Region Coach.
The effort is not affiliated with any of the major U.S. bodies but does have a large amount of financial support from golf companies like Callaway and Cleveland Golf.
They’ll provide scholarships for kids who need help to participate and travel. The teams will be broken down into Elite, Pre-Elite and Future Stars levels. Steinbauer said tryouts will take place starting in April and, hopefully, the teams will be formed in early summer.
“This has never been done before.” he said. “The only time American amateurs played internationally was in the Walker Cup. It was a matter of saying, ‘Let’s see if we can do different things to make it a better system. ‘ ”
The 2012 Northern Medalist tournament conducted by the Texas Golf Association was held last week at Twin Creeks Golf Club in Allen. Arlington’s Ted Waldrip was the winner with rounds of 76-71 – 147. Longview’s Mike Tate was second at 79-74 –153 and Alex Rodriguez, of Plano, and Wichita Falls’ Michael Mills tied for third at 154.