It's the Kids: Golf Isn't 'Dying,' But It Needs a Transfusion
Call it a mini-summit. Call it a concerned gathering. Call it anything, but call it three people who care about kids and their impact on the future of golf.
The names are familiar and so are the concerns. Stuart Taylor, of Whispering Woods Golf Club, a veteran golf professional and supporter of junior golfers; Marvin Waters, Little River Farm director of golf; and Curtis McGirt, founder of the Eastern Junior Golf Association (EJGA), met last week to discuss the game's future and the ultra-importance of young golfers in that success or failure.
It was a couple of hours of voicing what's wrong, what's right and what can be done to make things better for the youth and the game. In the end, nothing was solved, but that wasn't the point. Raising awareness was the issue, and the three ambassadors were vocal in their aspirations.
McGirt was there because his association was holding a tournament involving 64 youngsters. Taylor was there simply because he loves golf and enjoys seeing kids play the game. Waters was there because Little River Resort was hosting the tournament and because he feels strongly that young people are the salvation of the sport.
"I get so sick and tired of hearing that golf is a dying game," Waters said. "That's why, anytime we get a chance to work with the game's farm system -- kids -- we do it.
"Not enough people in golf give as much attention to the juniors as they should. We have 64 golfers here today and the beauty of it is that these kids don't drive here. Most of them have two parents who come with them. That's a boost to the game and to the economy that a lot of people don't even consider."
McGirt, who founded the EJGA nine years ago after being briefly involved with the Plantations Junior Tour, is deeply appreciative of involved caretakers of the game such as Waters and Taylor.
"These two guys truly understand the value of the young players to the game's future," he said. "I don't like to hear that it's a dying game, either, but sometimes I do think that we are committing suicide by shutting out the youngsters.
"We're holding 20 tournaments this year, and 15 of them are in the Pinehurst area. As Marvin pointed out, that brings a lot of people into an area for a weekend who are going to be eating and staying at hotels.
"But when we approach golf courses about hosting an event, at least half of them just turn off when they learn you want the courses on Saturday and Sunday."
The EJGA schedules all its tournaments on weekends, offering young players the opportunity to stay involved during the school year.
McGirt, who lives in Fairmont with his wife, Anne, became interested in junior golf several years ago because he had two sons playing. The eldest, William, is a winner and a weekly contender on the Tarheel Tour and attended the PGA Tour Qualifying School last fall.
"After working with the Plantation Tour, I thought I could do this myself," he said. "Maybe I was stupid, but it's been working for nine years. We're just a mom-and-pop operation. Anne teaches school in Dillon (S.C.), and she keeps the scoreboard and takes all the pictures. My job is to run the tournament."
Among participants at Little River on this Saturday were players from Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland, as well as the Carolinas.
Little River is earning a reputation among juniors for well-run events. The players are treated to professional tour standards and made to feel special. When the U.S. Kids Championship was hosted last summer, there were players in the 9-year-old division from 16 countries and 33 states. They were greeted by flags from all the countries, scoring tents, scoreboards and refreshment stations throughout the course.
Taylor, who remains actively involved in The First Tee program in Moore County, has always stressed working with youngsters.
"What I don't see -- like when I was a kid -- is the young people out playing when they aren't involved in tournaments," he said. "We lived for golf. We carried our bags and played with our buddies. I love kids and nothing makes me happier than seeing them playing golf and having a good time. But it is expensive and there's so much other stuff for them to do."
"The Carolinas Golf Association does a lot for junior golf, and it has identified access to courses and cost as the main problems. Golf clubs need money and the kids don't represent a lot of money. It's a tough nut to crack.
"But we have to understand that if a kid goes to a soccer match on the weekend, we haven't just lost a kid, we've lost a mom and pop.
"How do you get kids to tournament-level play without giving them a place to play? They haven't had that bag on their shoulder. If they aren't growing up in a private club, they have transportation issues and access issues. So where do they develop the skills? Golf has never really been a game for the masses, but we have to face it, Arnie's Army is getting a little old."
"The only way for kids to develop their games is by trying to beat each other's brains out on the course," he said. "That's where they learn how to play the game. But it's tough on parents, too. You can't just drop a bunch of kids off at the course the way you do at soccer practice."
Taylor feels that the answer lies in finding places for the kids to play.
"Every high school has basketball and tennis courts and football fields," he said, "but they don't have driving ranges. We need a place for kids to play. I don't care if it's nine holes or six holes or three holes. We just need a place where they can hang out and play with their friends. We have people in this area who could donate a couple of million dollars to make this happen."
Again, Waters agrees, but thinks getting a course of any size dedicated to kids may be a little idealistic.
"I'm more a singles hitter than a home run guy," he said. "My approach is if kids show and if they're really interested, I'll put them in clubs and a bag of some sort."
Anyone with a suggestion or a desire to help solve the problem can reach Waters at 949-4600, or Taylor at 949-4653.
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