USGA creating new program to develop America’s top junior golfers
As any golfer knows, the game can be expensive. From equipment to tee times, costs can add up. And those expenses are magnified when you add in lessons, travel and tournament fees for talented juniors.
That’s why the USGA’s Friday announcement introducing the new U.S. National Development Program is such welcome news. For the first time ever, multiple organizations across the country are coming together to nurture young players with competitive aspirations, including the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA), PGA of America, LPGA, Golf Coaches Association of America and Women’s Golf Coaches Association.
The goal of the U.S. National Development Program is to identify, train, develop, fund and support America’s most promising young players, regardless of cultural, geographical or financial background. Those juniors, amateurs and young professionals will have access to three respective national teams, each with a dedicated staff and resources. Special efforts will also be made to recruit players from underrepresented communities.
“Golf is the only major sport in the U.S. without a national development program,” USGA CEO Mike Whan said in a press release. “Today, that ends. Today, we start building a junior development program that will ensure a stronger American pipeline of diverse, high-potential talent.”
“We’re going to build a very clear and defined pathway for young boys and girls to move through if they have the desire to reach the highest levels of the game, whether that’s at an elite amateur level or professional level,” Heather Daly-Donofrio, USGA managing director of Player Relations and Development, added in a press conference. “We’re going to provide development resources for the athletes in our program, not only just from the perspective of helping them be the best golfers that they can but also to be the best people that they can. We want to ensure that this pathway is very healthy and positive and that we’re building the player and we’re building the human.”
The U.S. National Development Program will be funded by a sustainable grant program, which will assist players with costs like entry fees, travel, coaching, golf course access, equipment and more. According to the release, the U.S. National Development Program will focus on six key areas:
Create a process and pipeline to identify the country’s most promising juniors by developing a data-driven procedure that goes beyond scoring averages to recognize, track and measure talent. The program will conduct regular in-person evaluations and camps around the country as well as engage grassroots partners, junior tours, Allied Golf Associations and PGA of America Sections to assist in identifying the nation’s top talent.
Access to Competition
Partner with Allied Golf Associations, PGA of America Sections and the AJGA to develop a unified pathway for players to progress from state-level competition to appropriate level AJGA events and into USGA championships, including the introduction of more automatic exemptions.
For the game’s elite, the program will create and fund junior, amateur and young professional national teams. Members of the teams will receive access to year-round support, participate at bi-annual camps and compete internationally.
Members of the national teams will receive world-class coaching and analysis, sports psychology, nutritional guidance and resources necessary to develop the physical, mental and life skills to reach their full potential. To help junior golfers navigate the competitive landscape and track their progress, the program will offer a range of resources, including statistical platforms and partnerships as well as creating its own ranking system.
Player Development and Relations
In partnership with the PGA of America and LPGA Professionals and under the framework of the American Development Model philosophy, develop a programming structure and culture for the national teams that includes training with world-class coaches and specialists to apply an elevated and standardized approach to player development. Members of the national teams will receive mentoring from USGA champions and other athletes.
Athlete Financial Support
Build a robust and sustainable grant program to assist identified talent from a financial perspective, including entry fees, travel, coaching fees, golf course access, equipment and more.
The Program will begin this year with 50 funded juniors. That number will grow to 250 in 2024, 500 in 2025, 750 in 2026, and 1,000 in 2027. Ensuing years will also see the creation of new teams and championships and camps.
As described above, existing AJGA tournaments will also be elevated to create pathways for players to USGA championships, and new automatic exemptions for some AJGA events will be implemented.
“The journey from junior golf to elite competition has become complicated and cost-prohibitive for many families,” Daly-Donofrio said in the release. “It is our duty to unify and simplify the process by removing any barriers that prevent the most promising juniors from reaching their full potential. The success of this program will not only support and elevate the talent of today’s top players, but also diversify and strengthen the next generation of great American golfers.”
The word generation is an important one, signifying the commitment the USGA has to this initiative.
“This is a long-term play for us. This is a forever play,” Daly-Donofrio said. “This is not something that we’re diving into this week, this year and in a couple years just going to say no, we’re not doing those national teams anymore, we’re not doing this national program. We are in this for the future to foster future generations of American golf talent, and it’s not about this generation or the next generation, it’s about all the generations after that.”
In addition to targeting top players, Daly-Donofrio said the program hopes to identify and recruit talented golfers who perhaps don’t cross state lines to play tournaments, and thus aren’t known on the national stage.
“We’ve got a list of probably 25 different points on the paper that we will look at each athlete holistically, so it will be — yes, we’ll look at rankings, we’ll look at statistics, we’ll look at scoring average, we’ll look at technique, but we’ll also look at those intangibles, work ethic, grit, determination, desire, do they have a good support system, et cetera,” she said. “This is a massive undertaking and a massive project, so it’s going to take us time to build out all of these pieces, but we are firmly behind it.”