Junior golf on the Gulf Coast has sprouted and the players are in full bloom.
Golf professionals and junior golf supporters have planted the seeds, and now we're seeing numbers flourish. It's amazing what a little fertilizer in the form of encouragement will do.
Every time I see 10-year-old Katelyn Altese teeing off with dad Chris in tow, I know the game is in good shape.
At the United States Junior Championship qualifier at Hattiesburg Country Club last Monday 63 players with handicap indexes 6.4 or less tried to grab three spots. Charlie Miller of Jackson and Isaiah Jackson of Golden will join Zachary Zediker of Gray, GA in the tournament proper in Houston July 21-26.
I've been conducting the qualifier for 15 years at Windance, Fallen Oak, Grand Bear and Hattiesburg CC, and this year's numbers set a record for entries by 20. Seven states were represented, half the field called Mississippi home, and six players were from the Gulf Coast.
Earlier in June record numbers were seen at the Southern Junior at the Country Club of Jackson. The USGA accepted 3238 entries for this year's US Junior Amateur, up 378 entries from 2013.
The first two events of the Nevada Bob's Gulf Coast Junior Tour saw over 50 and 40 juniors respectively. The 17-and-under group is showing up on No 1 Tee.
At Pine Burr Country Club this week seven girls age 9-16 teed off in the second of seven GCJT events, enough that a separate girls' 12-17 division is being created for the remainder of the tour. Brandon Laird coaches the St Martin team, and he promised more, "I'm going to bring another girl and call another coach." Three of the girls play on his team.
Play golf America! That's the PGA of America's slogan. Juniors and their parents must have listened.
Tommy Snell, is the golf coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.