Soccer, football, basketball, golf – one of these things is not like the other.
Well, usually anyways.
But there’s a growing program, the Ping Junior Interclub, that infuses the camaraderie and sportsmanship typically reserved for team sports, such as soccer, into golf, traditionally a solitary sport.
The PJI is the flagship program of Junior Golf University, a nonprofit organization with the goals of educating junior golfers on all aspects of the game, promoting golf by offering competitive team tournament formats and using golf as a platform to develop leadership skills.
Launched in 2008, the PJI is a tournament series allowing junior golfers to compete as part of a team. The program started out with only a few teams in the Phoenix area, but quickly grew to 45 teams throughout Arizona. When John Solheim approached JGU executive director John Souza about partnering with Ping, Souza knew the program had really taken off and could grow nationwide.
“This is all about team building,” said executive director John Souza. “There’s club baseball, club soccer – this is club golf.”
So how does PJI work?
Private and public golf clubs, as well as golf facilities such as local First Tee chapters, form teams of five to eight players (coed, ages 12-18), which JGU places into Divisions consisting of four to five teams. Prior to every tournament, each team’s coach selects five team members to participate. These five-player teams compete against the other teams within the Division. Each team is required to host one of these eighteen-hole Divisional Tournaments at their home course.
A pioneer in the “grow the game” initiative, the PJI’s rejection of socioeconomic barriers really makes the program stand out.
“Whether teams are from private, public, resort or municipal courses doesn’t matter. All teams play in the same division and play on each others’ courses,” said Souza. “PJI isn’t about course exclusivity; it’s about sportsmanship.”
The PJI tournaments are based on a scoring system, where each individual player is awarded points depending on where they finish. A maximum of 725 points are available at each tournament. If 25 players compete, the individual with the lowest medal score earns 75 points, second place earns 70, and so on (the last-place finisher would earn one point). Team scores are comprised of the sum of the individual scores.
After the Divisional Tournaments, the teams that have earned the most points play in a Regional Tournament. The winning team(s) from each regional go on to compete in the State Championship. The top players from teams that don’t advance to states are eligible to compete as individuals.
A team from ASU Karsten in Tempe, Ariz., won PJI’s 2012 Arizona State Championship, held in May at Grayhawk GC in Scottsdale, Ariz. 18-year-old Zach Wright, the lowest scorer on the Karsten team (which earned 748.5 PJI points to win), came in second after shooting 3-under 137 (70-67), which equated to a total of 262.5 points on the PJI scoring system.
18-year-old Lindsey Weaver, a Junior Solheim Cup player, was the medalist with a 5-under 135 (68-67). Weaver competed as an individual, as her Desert Mountain Club team did not make it to the state tournament.
“You have nationally-ranked Lindsey Weaver playing on the same team as younger, less experienced golfers,” Souza said. “It’s great to see her act as a mentor for them, and they get to witness her go out and shoot rounds of 68.”
After having established PJI in Arizona, JGU is in the process of starting programs in Oklahoma and Kansas, and seeks to grow its relationship with the First Tee, a developmental program that provides golf instruction to youth of all backgrounds.
“We use sportsmanship to get kids off the couch and away from video games,” said Souza.
PJI doesn’t just grow and promote the game of golf – it does positive things for the actual kids who play the game.
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