ORLANDO – For every narrative of golf being in decline, there is a counterpunch of optimism.
One such beam of hope has been passed around enthusiastically throughout the 64th PGA Merchandise Show: PGA Junior League Golf, an initiative started with an eye toward building the game, has grown at a remarkable and encouraging rate.
The program commenced in 2011 with 170 youngsters and 16 teams using a Little League-style format where juniors wear golf shirts with numbers and rally around a team concept. In 2016, PGA Junior League Golf included 36,000 juniors on nearly 3,000 teams across the country. The exponential growth is a 300 percent increase from where the program stood three years prior.
“PGA Junior League Golf continues to be one of the most dynamic, youth-focused initiatives led by the PGA of America,” said PGA President Paul Levy. “Thanks to the leadership of PGA and LPGA professionals nationwide, we expect this exponential growth to continue in 2017.”
Boys and girls ages 13 and under can participate in the league regardless of their ability. The program sagaciously utilizes a two-person scramble format where players can be substituted every three holes. One game consists of four nine-hole matches with teams playing around five games throughout the regular season.
The playoff season that follows is intended to generate excitement. Each league takes its top 10 players and makes a new team to compete in sub-regional, regional and eventually national competitions. Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., will host this year’s PGA Junior League National Championship, Nov. 16-19.
It is not only the juniors who benefit from the program — more than 2,000 PGA and LPGA professionals serve as captains for each team and encourage an atmosphere where whole families are playing the game together.
“It’s tremendous to see PGA and LPGA professionals utilize PGA Junior League Golf in their work leading the charge to grow golf among our youth,” said Levy. “The developmental nature of the program is very welcoming. Captains are not only teaching the game but also the important character skills and values inherent in golf that kids will carry through life.”
Factoring into the continued growth of the initiative is the support of tour standouts Rory McIlroy, Lexi Thompson, Rickie Fowler and Michelle Wie, who serve as official ambassadors of the program.
Registration for the 2017 season opens Feb. 1. You can visit pgajlg.com for more information.