The Junior Invitational at Sage Valley looks to separate itself from other junior tournaments in everything it does – from its invitation to its invitees.
The notable invitations have been sent – packaged in an elaborate wooden box – and have caught the eye of at least one of the top junior golfers in the world.
Andy Zhang, the No. 4 golfer in the Golfweek/Sagarin junior rankings, said, if nothing conflicts, he plans to be among the 54-golfer field on April 24.
“I’m excited. It’s one of those junior tournaments that everybody looks up to and wants to play,” Zhang said. “It’s such a small field and by invitation. It’s just a privilege to be invited.”
Players automatically gain an invitation if they finished in the top 10 at Sage Valley last year, won the Georgia or South Carolina State Golf Association Junior titles, won or was the runner-up at the USGA Junior Amateur, came in first or second at the Boys Amateur, are in the top 30 of the Golfweek/Sagarin junior rankings as of Jan. 1 or are in the top 100 of the World Amateur Golf rankings as of Jan. 1.
Zhang withdrew his name from the field last year after gaining a sponsor’s exemption to a European Tour event. He ended up staying in the states due to a sickness and said missing out on the Junior Invitational was a regret.
“The course [makes the event great]. It’s Sage Valley. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it from junior players spreading the word,” Zhang said. “Especially next to Augusta and with such a small field, it makes it a great event.”
But, for tournament organizer Russ Krueger, it’s a combination of the little and big things that make the invitational great.
“What makes the Junior Invitational different is it’s probably the closest things the juniors have to a major tournament,” Krueger said.
From the golfers’ living situation – they room with one another in the member cottages on site – to the garb of the Sage Valley caddies – they are dressed in similar fashion to those at Augusta National – Krueger said it’s an experience to behold.
Participants will be hearing from Gary Player at the opening banquet this year and a Tour player from Nike. They’ll also get the chance to play in front of thousands of people – a rare opportunity for junior golfers.
Zhang, a China native and Florida resident, is excited to get his year started. He said that he’ll play the CB&I Boys Championship at Carlton Woods next.
As far as Sage Valley goes – Krueger said that 25 golfers have already registered and that a field of 54 should be set soon.