Two weeks ago, the top junior girls from around the country converged in Pinehurst, N.C., to do battle for the U.S. Girls’ Junior title at the Country Club of North Carolina. This week, junior golfers are out in an even greater presence. And this time, they not only hail from all over the world, but are just a little bit smaller.
The U.S. Kids Golf World Championship is under way this weekend at nine courses in the Pinehurst area (including course Nos. 3, 4 and 8 at Pinehurst Resort), causing more than 1,800 golfers ages 12 and younger to flock to the Southeast to test their skills.
Now a decade old, the U.S. Kids Golf Foundation is a nonprofit organization that was the brainchild of Dan Van Horn, founder and president. The World Championship has grown steadily in the 10 years since its inception (think 200 participants from just 29 states and five countries at the inaugural event). Van Horn was inspired to get the foundation off the ground when his own children began to take up the game and he recognized a need for tournaments geared at younger golfers.
“I think without it kids are disorganized and you just have general play,” Van Horn said.
The World Championship is one of more than 400 local, regional, national and international events conducted by the U.S. Kids Golf Foundation each year, and an event that players must qualify into. As for the most brilliant part of U.S. Kids Golf events? Each age group has its own division, with ages ranging from 6 to 12. It’s something not seen in most national and international junior events.
“We have the largest fields in any of those age groups in the world,” Van Horn said.
For a while, the U.S. Kids World Championship was compared with tournaments such as the Callaway Junior World Championship, which takes place in San Diego in July. As Van Horn explains, however, the strength of the Pinehurst venue and the family-friendly environment have helped the event to surpass other similar junior events.
“Our field strength really is way beyond those … tournaments really at this point,” Van Horn said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the word of mouth and how people like the event.”
What notables are in attendance this week at Pinehurst? It ranges from Allan Kournikova (6-year-old brother of tennis star Anna Kournikova) to Harrison Murphy (whose father operates golf academies around the world) to Megan Khang (the 12-year-old who made a run to the second round of match play at the U.S. Girls’ Junior).
Not only has Van Horn’s vision for junior golf at the youngest level made an impact on the game, but it’s doing wonders for the Pinehurst area in general. The tournament generally brings between 6,000 to 7,000 vsitors to the area.
“The economic boost is enormous for the community and it’s not their high season, so it really helps them,” Van Horn said.
Here’s to growing the game, one beginning golfer at a time.