The USGA’s new pilot program to create state junior golf teams is one of the three best ideas in junior golf.
This first effort will include golfers from California (Southern), Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Tennessee. Honestly, it doesn’t matter where it starts. It matters that it’s happening. The PGA of America is also playing a role in identifying talent.
“This first of its kind state team program will serve as a critical part of the talent identification pathway for the USNDP ( U.S. National Development Program) and provide more opportunities for a diverse population of athletes to receive resources and guidance to compete at the highest levels of the game,” Heather Daly-Donofrio, USGA managing director, Player Relations and Development, said in a statement sent by the USGA.
The USGA’s goal is for every state to field a team by 2033.
According to the announcement, teams might have as few as two boys and two girls and as many as 20 of each. The teams will be selected by a committee formed by representatives of golf organizations in each state such as the PGA of America sections and state golf organizations.
Teams will be selected on the basis of criteria that each state develops. It might be a points structure based on state junior competitions or rankings or other factors. The criteria to make each team, according to the USGA, will be published in advance so that juniors have an opportunity to work on their games and achieve the milestones necessary for consideration.
Juniors will need to get a handicap, which can be done at most golf courses in the U.S. or through state golf associations. A list of state associations that cooperate with the USGA can be found here.
Youngsters may want to work on their golf resumes and register with the national program so that the USGA and the state committees are aware of each golfer who has an interest in competing. You can find the registration form for that here.
To be on a state junior team, golfers must be 13 by January 1, 2025. Players must not have reached the age of 19th by July 19, 2025, in order to participate. Members of the team may not be enrolled in college for the 2024-2025 school year.
All team members, no matter what state, must be U.S. citizens.
In addition to representing their states, golfers will have a chance to represent the U.S. as members of the National Team. Former Pepperdine associate head coach, Chris Zambri, will be the coach for the U.S. National Development Program and for the USGA’s National Team.
The Second Great Idea
The other great idea in golf has been in existence for several years. It was started in California but is now available in all 50 states, Canada and Australia. It’s called Youth on Course.
The basic idea of Youth on Course is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that provides youth with access to life-changing opportunities through golf. Private funding makes it possible for members to have access to play for $5 or less through subsidies to thousands of courses throughout the United States, Canada and Australia.
Members ages 6-18 have the opportunity to succeed through Youth on Course programs: DRIVE Club, Careers on Course, Leadership Council and College Scholarships. In addition, Youth on Course has an Alumni Network which extends membership to those 19 and older. This elevated membership offers opportunities for young adults to connect at complementary events, access exclusive deals, find jobs, and much more.
Members of Youth on Course pay for an annual membership card, which allows them to access the available tee times in their area, Membership prices vary by region but average $30 per year. There may be a charge for walking fees or fees for a cart, and that will vary from course to course.
Many states participate. Florida, for instance, currently has 53 participating courses with most of them along the I-95 corridor and around Orlando. But the membership transfers to all states, so it can be used when a youngster travels with his or her family.
Jennifer Kupcho, who won the first Augusta National Women’s Amateur and then turned professional and won the Chevron – one of the LPGA majors – is a Youth on Course Ambassador.
The Third Great Idea: PGA Junior League
Finally, but by no means last, is the PGA Junior League program. This is a team golf program for young golfers aged 13 and under and 17 and under. Rickie Fowler, Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie West, Rory McIlroy, and Steph Curry all support the PGA Junior League.
PGA of America members, many of whom are course or club pros, supervise the league and league events and provide a wholesome environment for youngsters.
The best way to find out about the PGA Junior League is through their website, or by asking the golf professional at your course, or by checking the PGA Junior League course finder. Just put in your zip code to find courses near you.
While the USGA program won’t be for everyone and isn’t for younger golfers, the Youth on Course is. So is the PGA Junior League. And there’s just no way to tell which junior will succeed and which one won’t. All these programs offer opportunities for testing out golf for fun and for finding an avenue to be competitive.