PGA of America's team golf targets youth, parents

If there's a common complaint about the game of golf, it's this: It lacks the shared thrill and camaraderie of team sports.

Of course, there are exceptions such as the Ryder Cup, but, typically, team golf has been reserved for elite pros and amateurs. Until now.

A newly created team version of golf – endorsed by the PGA of America – not only may raise the sport's profile, but could be the long-awaited catalyst the golf industry has been seeking to spark interest among youth and their parents.

What's being called PGA Junior League Golf, industry leaders hope, will be golf's answer to Little League Baseball.

PGA Junior League Golf already is underway, albeit still in a developmental phase. But with more than 120 teams in 22 markets participating, the PGA of America just announced that the program is ready for a national rollout in 2013.

Much like other youth sports leagues, PGA Junior League Golf features teams with as many as 14 players on a roster – all adorned in team jerseys (with uniform numbers on their backs). Head-to-head matches against other teams are conducted as two-person scrambles – underscoring teamwork and reducing pressure on any one player. Other unique rules: Coaches are allowed to substitute players every three holes, giving all team members an opportunity to participate.

LEJ Sports of Norcross, Ga. – which created other national sports initiatives such as Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run and iHoops Skills Challenge – partnered with the the PGA of America to create the co-ed youth golf program. Children, ages 7 to 13, have participated. (For more information about PGA Junior League Golf, visit www.pgajrleaguegolf.com)

"Junior golf is usually geared toward the development of fine young players, leaving out the kid who's not a great player but still enjoys the game," said Bob Longmire, LEJ managing partner. "This is finally their opportunity to play with their peers and friends… They're playing golf and falling in love with the game, which is the ultimate goal."

Earlier this summer, more than 1,800 children participated in PGA Junior League Golf. Upon completing regular-season matches, teams vied for city championship titles. Winners are scheduled to proceed to one of five regional championships, and those advancing will compete Sept. 14-16 at the "World Series" at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club outside of Chicago.

"PGA Junior League Golf far exceeded our expectations," said Allen Wronowski, PGA of America president. "This has been a great opportunity for parents and young golfers alike to take a look at a new way to play the game, one with all of the same benefits as a baseball, basketball or soccer league."

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