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BOB WEST ON GOLF: Participation dropping in junior golf tournaments

Once upon a time in the no-so-distant past, the Golden Triangle was a staunch bastion of junior golf. Participation and interest was such that then Babe Zaharias pro Ed Campbell was able to find enough sponsorship money to fund a Texas-Louisiana Junior Tour in the winter months.

In the summer, of course, there was a weekly slate of tournaments tied into the Southern Texas PGA Junior Tour. Throw in Bruce Lietzke’s 36-hole junior tourney at Idylwild and the long standing 36-hole event put on by the YMBL and avid young golfers, as well as novices, had plenty of options.

That is not the case these days. Lack of players snuffed out the winter tour and the same fate could befall the STPGA Junior Tour. Counting the Lietzke and the YMBL, only five tournaments are set for this summer.

Babe Zaharias pro Mitch Duncan, who is one of many strong boosters of junior golf, fears the STPGA may pull out of the Golden Triangle if participation continues to decline. He has no answers for why golf seems to be fading in interest among junior players.

“I am short on ideas,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about this for the last two years as I’ve watched the numbers drop. My first thought is there are just so many other options, starting with all the time spent doing social media on cell phones.

“Golf takes so much work, dedication and discipline. There still seems to be good numbers at the high school level but scores suggest there are not as many quality players. You have to wonder if that is from not playing in more junior tournaments.

“You can point to COVID for numbers being down last year, but junior play in all the other STPGA chapters were up while ours were way down. Numbers in golf overall were way up. I’m baffled and I’m concerned.”

PNG golf coach Jerry Honza, who was one of several champions of junior golf in Southeast Texas before he took the PNG job, is also concerned. But he thinks there will eventually be a rebound in interest.

“I honestly do believe that this is at some level cyclical and I do believe that interest and participation can and will rebound,” Honza said. “We have several passionate champions for junior golf in this area who are still promoting the game and working with kids.

“Although COVID helped regular golf at least initially I think it had a negative impact on junior golf. I had 40 juniors in my summer clinics in 2019. Last summer and fall – after/during COVID – I had 18.

“Plus, and I’m not sure how to convey it, you have to acknowledge the proliferation of technology and technology-based activities. Cell phones are a blessing and a curse. At some level they are stealing time and attention.”

Campbell, who spent much of his adult life pushing and promoting junior golf, says it saddens him to see kids drifting away from the game he loves.

“I don’t know what the answer is on quality or quantity of players,” he said. “Times are just different. Kids have so many other things to do. Used to be kids would be hanging around the golf course all day. You don’t see much of that anymore.

“In my opinion there is no group or individual you can blame. The opportunities are still there but the interest isn’t. I was sick when we had to shut down that winter Texas-Louisiana Tour. Early on we were getting 90 kids. Then the numbers kept dropping and dropping.

“I couldn’t keep asking people to sponsor a tour nobody was playing in. I saw how few kids were playing in the summer tournaments and just shook my head. It’s painful to see. I feel sorry for the kids.”

CHIP SHOTS: Andrew Landry is in the field for the PGA Tour Valspar Championship this week in Tampa. Landry and former University of Arkansas teammate Austin Cook missed the cut in last week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans partnership.

The Razorback duo had started strong with a 66 in best ball competition but were done in by a four-over 76 in the alternate shot format. In his last stroke play event, the PNG ex snapped a string of three consecutive missed cuts with a T33 in the Heritage Classic.

James Vercher’s 5-under-par 67 dominated the Monday Senior 50 Plus 2 ball, carrying his team to victory on the front with minus 6 and a tie for first on the back with minus 7. Along for the ride with Vercher were Cap Hollier, Robert Stansbury and ghost player Dan Flood.

Tying the back was the foursome of Ed Holley, Ted Freeman, Rufus Reyes and Dwayne Benoit.

In the Friday 2 ball at Zaharias, the team of Vercher, Dan MacNeil, Larry Foster and Flood won the front with minus 2. On the back, the foursome of Russ Gloede Thad Kieschnick, Bobby Kimball and Keith Marshall smoked the competition with minus 8.

Thursday’s 2 ball at Zaharias saw the team of Kenny Robbins, Luke Anderson, Larry Lee and Evert Baker take the front with minus 5. On the back, there was a tie at minus 1 between the team of James Cady, Rick Pritchett, Brad Royer and Frank LeBlanc and the foursome of Joe Gongora, Larry Johnson Harrel Guidry and Flood.

Wednesday’s Babe Zaharias DogFight ended in a two-way tie for first. Scoring 19 points was the team of Gloede, Butch Cross, Kimball and a ghost player and the group of Holley, Bob Luttrull, Ron Mistrot and J. Johnson.

Closest to the pin winners were Gloede (No. 2), Charles Perez (No. 7), Ron LaSalle (No. 12) and Jeff Rinehart (No. 15).

5 Under Golf Center has upcoming fitting days scheduled for Titleist (10 a.m.-2 p.m. on May 1), Ping (1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on May 6) and Srixon-Cleveland (12 p.m-5 p.m. on May 21). Those who sign-up for a time slot and follow through will receive a sleeve of balls or a cap.

Golf news should be e-mailed to rdwest@usa.net.