Before last year’s Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, Noah Goodwin found himself on a shuttle at Augusta Regional Airport until midnight because another competitor, an Aussie named Min Woo Lee, was waiting for the airline to locate his clubs. Later that week Goodwin and Lee played together in the final round and finished T-5 and second, respectively, behind winner Austin Eckroat.
“We became good friends after that,” Goodwin said. “You always meet people at Sage, and you become friends with everyone you meet.”
Goodwin, the top-ranked junior in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings, is among 54 players set to compete at Sage Valley Golf Club in one of junior golf’s most prestigious events this year. The April 20-22 tournament in Graniteville, S.C., is popular among the players for good reason.
Not only is Sage Valley a challenging and beautiful test of golf, the perks of being invited are incredible. Players stay with each other on-site in cottages come equipped with ping-pong tables, video game systems and all the snacks one could dream of. They get to meet some of the best golfers in the world – Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus have been among the past guests. And the swag is unmatched, players say, especially the specialized tour bags handed out last year and the custom shoes designed by the previous year’s champion.
Then there’s the lighted three-hole dormie course, to which players have access late into the night.
“Whenever you are off the golf course, it’s all about having fun, and that’s what that tournament is all about,” Goodwin said. “It’s just a blast, the entire thing. You could be playing (poorly) in the tournament and you can go out afterwards and have a great time, or you can be playing great and you can go out afterwards and just take all that pressure off and just have a blast with friends.”
The field is top notch. All but two of the top 25 golfers in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings will play this year. Goodwin, Davis Shore and Eugene Hong are ranked in the top 50 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
There is also a strong contingent of international players, including Joaquin Niemann (No. 3 in the WAGR) and all six 2016 European Junior Ryder Cup team members: Kristoffer Reitan, Marcus Svensson, Falko Hanisch, Jonathan Goth-Rasmussen, Adrien Pendaries and Matias Honkala.
“It’s the biggest tournament that we get to play all year, just from the competition, which is the best players in the world, and then also just the way it’s run, it’s a class-act tournament,” Goodwin said. “We’re treated so well and it makes us feel like we’re playing in something bigger than just a junior-golf tournament. … Just everything that they do for us makes it feel like something so much bigger.
“They go above and beyond in everything that they can do for us to make that entire week one of the best that we have all year.”