AJGA founder left legacy in junior golf

Mike Bentley (front row, center) joins tournament staff at the first AJGA tournament in 1978, the Tournament of Champions at Inverrary Country Club.

Mike Bentley (front row, center) joins tournament staff at the first AJGA tournament in 1978, the Tournament of Champions at Inverrary Country Club.

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Mike Bentley

Mike Bentley, who went from running junior golf tournaments out of the back of his car to creating what is now the American Junior Golf Association, the most prominent junior golf association on the planet, died April 8. He was 59.

“I can’t tell you in words how much (the AJGA) means to me,” Bentley, who had been living in Plano, Texas, and working for the Texas Restaurant Association since the early 1980s, told Golfweek in 2007.

“It’s my legacy. It’s the one thing that I can truthfully say came out of me, but there’s a lot of cool people that made it work.”

In the early 1970s, Bentley covered high school sports for a small newspaper in DeKalb County, a suburb of Atlanta, when he recognized a need for tournaments for junior golfers.

“There was nothing there for them,” Bentley, who grew up in Decatur, Ga., told Golfweek. “So I decided to change that.”

In the summer of 1974, Bentley cut the ribbon for The DeKalb County Junior Golf Association, running a half-dozen events out of his silver station wagon. Two years later, the first AJGA, the Atlanta Junior Golf Association, was formed. A young man named Davis Love III won its 1976 season-ending championship at Pinehurst No. 2.

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Mike Bentley (left) talks with Tom Watson, the AJGA’s first honorary chairman.

The next year, the American Junior Golf Association launched, with reigning U.S. Open and British Open champion Tom Watson as honorary chairman. Bentley would serve as AJGA president for the next five years.

“He had a wonderful idea for creating a junior golf program and it’s come to really mean something,” Watson said Thursday from the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at TPC Tampa Bay. “It’s become a college proving ground for young golfers and it’s a credit to him.”

Today, more than 30 years later, the AJGA has a membership of about 5,000 junior golfers from 49 states and 30 countries and a schedule 85 events long.

Three days after Bentley’s death, the AJGA’s most decorated golfer, three-time AJGA player of the year Phil Mickelson, won the Masters.

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