Like many operations coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, the South Carolina Junior Golf Association is hiring these days. But unlike companies struggling to get back to pre-pandemic levels, the SCJGA is getting bigger.
“We’re going to be very busy here in the near future,” said Justin Fleming, the organization’s senior manager.
This increase in activity is typical of the SCJGA, formed in 1990 and “growing” ever since. The brainchild of Happ Lathrop, now Executive Director Emeritus of the SC Golf Association, the focus on young golfers has blossomed beyond expectation.
“After the high school tournaments ended in May, the kids mostly put the clubs in the garage; they had very few places to play (competitively),” Lathrop recalled. “They are going to develop only in competition, and that is what we wanted to bring.”
The results have been solid. SCJGA alumni have won 49 PGA Tour tournaments, including three majors and two FedEx Cups, and three LPGA Tour tournaments. Accomplishments include four USGA championships, two NCAA individual champions, and Clemson’s 2003 NCAA Tag Team Championship team made up entirely of players who found their games in the SCJGA.
“Pretty amazing,” Lathrop said. “But the program is much more than those who have become highly skilled players. Players who have discovered golf through SCJGA programs have found a game for a lifetime.
Joe Quick, director of development for the SC Junior Golf Foundation, notes that the organization will exceed $1 million in scholarships awarded to young people in the state this year. Funds go into development programs such as first team grants and summer camps.
“The impact reach is approximately 72,000 through various grants and programs,” Quick said. “In non-pandemic years, the foundation pays out more than $300,000 a year in grants and scholarships.”
Lathrop bought Paul Rouillard to lead the initial junior program and, he said, “We exceeded our five-year plan in three years. »
Chris Miller and now Fleming have followed in leading the initiative and this year’s addition – a development program called Players Series – requires more staff.
“We had so many entries into our major tournaments that we were turning away kids, and we had to find a way for them to play,” Fleming said. “The Players Series is like the Korn Ferry Tour of the PGA Tour in that players have the opportunity to develop their games competitively.”
Programs like these require funds, and a fundraising idea that is now called the Columbia Golf Ball emerged.
“We were talking about what we could do and (Charlie) Roundtree said, ‘Let’s have a party. Everybody likes to party,’” recalls Lathrop.
They did, and like the Junior Golf Association, the results were impressive. After missing two years due to pandemic restrictions, the 19th annual Columbia Golf Ball is scheduled for April 7 at the USC Alumni Center.
“We’re now seeing guys who played in the junior events early on competing in (SCGA) events,” said Biff Lathrop, who took over from his father as executive director.
“Guys like Dustin (Johnson), Lucas (Glover), Jonathan (Byrd), Kevin (Kisner) and the others are succeeding at the highest level. But you have others playing in our tournaments and even more playing on weekends. This is the impact in large part of the SCJGA.
At least one national publication agrees: Golf Digest once named South Carolina’s junior program the best in the nation, and judging by the growth and demand for attendance, nothing has changed.
For ticket and sponsorship information at Columbia Golf Ball, call the SCGA at 803-732-9311
Superlatives of SCJGA “oldies”
Accomplishments of players who developed their games through the South Carolina Junior Golf Association program, formed in 1990:
▪ PGA Tour Tournament wins (49): Dustin Johnson 24, Bill Haas 6, Jonathan Byrd 5, Lucas Glover 4, Kevin Kisner 4, DJ Trahan 2, Scott Brown 1, Wesley Bryan 1, Tommy Gainey 1, Ben Martin 1.
▪ LPGA Tour Tournament wins (3): Austin Ernst 3
▪ FedEx Cup Champions (2): Bill Haas, Dustin Johnson
▪ Men’s major professional championships (3): Dustin Johnson 2 (US Open, Masters), Lucas Glover (US Open)
▪ United States Amateur Champion (1): Jensen Castle
▪ American Public Link Champions (2): Corbin Mills, DJ Trahan
▪ USA Amateur Four-Ball Champion (1): Todd White (with partner Nathan Smith)
▪ NCAA Individual Champions (2): Charles Warren (men), Austin Ernst (women)
▪ NCAA Tag Team Champion (1): Clemson 2003 (with all former SCJGA players)
▪ US Walker Cup team members (7): Jonathan Byrd, Lucas Glover, Bill Haas, Dustin Johnson, Matt Hendrix, DJ Trahan, Todd White
▪ US Curtis Cup team members (3): Jensen Castle, Austin Ernst, Lauren Stephenson
All-American Ryan Hall won the individual title and the South Carolina men won the team championship at the Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate at Aiken’s Palmetto GC. Jack Wall finished second and Rafe Reynolds tied for fourth for the Gamecocks, who won their second tournament of the season. . . . Colby Patton and Zack Gordon shared first place in the individual competition, leading Clemson’s men to a 16-stroke win in the Wake Forest Invitational at No. 2 Pinehurst in Pinehurst, NC. The Tigers led wire to wire as they presented first-year head coach Jordan Byrd with his first tournament win. . . . Zach Herold (Lexington) teamed up with Sam Jackson (West Columbia) to win the SCGA Partners Championship at Windermere Club and Spring Valley CC. . . . Ben James (Milford, Connecticut) won the men’s title and Katie Cranston (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) won the women’s championship at the Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Tournament at TPC Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet. . . . Team Georgia defeated Team South Carolina 33-25 in Women’s Team Peach-Palmetto games at the Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms.