By Steve Krause
Golf … for the fun of it.
That seems to be the objective of the PGA Junior League, which is making its debut at Gannon Golf Course in Lynn and other local courses this summer. The goal is to get young boys and girls interested in the sheer fun golf provides, according to Gannon head pro David Sibley.
The Lynn municipal course will be in a league with Beverly Golf & Tennis Club, Wenham Country Club, Nahant Golf Club, Hillview Golf Course in North Reading, and Sagamore Spring in Lynnfield.
Most courses in the North Shore Golf magazine readership area field at least one team of 8-to-12 players. Some, like at Tedesco CC in Marblehead, are by invitation-only. The majority are open to any youngster, primarily ages 8 to 13, who would like to participate. Atkinson (N.H.) Resort and Country Club had a whopping 86 junior players in 2017, giving the club its own league.
Mike Higgins, NEPGA executive director, noted that a record number of players have signed up for the junior league for this time of year.
“We are number one in the entire country in PGA Junior League in terms of both the number of kids playing and the number of teams, with more than 200 teams. One, Atkinson, actually won the regionals and advanced to the final in Arizona last year,” said Higgins.
Sibley said that while the PGA is long on events that cater to golf’s competitive nature, it seeks to foster an interest in the game purely as something enjoyable and social.
“The PGA has already recognized the competitive aspect of golf,” Sibley said, “but in order to get youngsters who will want to go out, and maybe not take it as seriously, who are looking for a more fun aspect of their game, this is what the program was designed for.”
And while teaching the sport is certainly central to the PGA Junior League’s efforts, that won’t be the only aspect of the game the kids will learn.
There is no required skill set, except for an interest in the game and some knowledge of the fundamentals.
“I don’t want to say beginners, because there is some competitive aspect to it, but it doesn’t have to be just the kids who are going and looking at playing in high school or college.
“We’re going to have what I call experiences at the club,” he said. “I say ‘experiences’ because there will be some days where I’ll talk to the kids about what it’s like being on the course – the etiquette, such as how to keep play moving, how to conduct themselves and what it’s like to be out on the course with other folks.”
The league hopes to “bring family and friends together around fun, team golf experiences with expert coaching and instruction from PGA and LPGA professionals,” according to a statement by the PGA Junior League.
Toward that end, Sibley said one of the main criteria for clubs hosting these PGA Junior teams is that a registered PGA professional must be on site to teach.
Toby Ahern, head PGA pro at Nahant Golf Club, compares the program to baseball’s Little League. It is competitive but is also “great fun. It’s one of the best programs the PGA runs. We have a full team of 12 and the goal is to learn about the game, play and have fun.”
Ryan McDonald, a North Reading native who is in his first year at Wenham Country Club after 10 years at Northfield CC in central Vermont, is excited about getting the junior program up and running there. “We have 10 players signed up for the league. We will have a lot of fun and the boys and girls will learn about the game of golf. Hopefully, it will start a life-long love of the game.”
Sibley said the league is structured like many other sports leagues. There will be a series of matches in a scramble format, rather than the usual best ball style.
“A scramble is designed to create a little less pressure,” said Sibley. “A scramble format keeps it more fun, with just enough competition, too.” In this format, two golfers tee off and choose one ball they’d prefer to play, both hit from that spot; this continues for the rest of the hole. In best ball, both golfers play his/her ball for the entire round, with the best score for each hole being the one that counts.
Sibley said there is no residency requirement. “We’re taking juniors from Lynn, and also not from Lynn,” he said.
“What we’ll probably do,” he said, “is start out holding practices, and start our schedule in June. We’ll play a league schedule, with the league champions going to a state tournament, and then a regional tournament. Winner of the regional tournament goes to the nationals in Arizona,” he said. “Those are in November, so it might be cold up here but it’s warm down there.” A team from Atkinson Resort and Country Club made it to the nationals last year.
Sibley said there are still four slots open on Gannon’s team. Interested youngsters can phone the pro shop for more information. “I really think,” he said, “that if we build this up enough, we can have at least two teams.”
North Shore Golf editor Bill Brotherton contributed to this story.