Junior golf in Southeast Texas, dating all the way back to Henry Homberg in the 1950s, has had its peaks and valleys. It’s mostly been peaks, thanks to the dedicated efforts of pros like Homberg, Ronnie Pflieder, Ed Campbell and others.
In the past couple of years, however, there has been an alarming downturn in participation. COVID 19 has been fingered as the No. 1 culprit, although there are other theories like video games, cell phones, accessibility, loss of the First Tee and just a cyclical dip in interest that will likely swing back around.
Whatever the reasons, Austin Williams, the new Southern Texas PGA Director for the Beaumont area, vows to leave no stone unturned in rebuilding interest and participation. A product of junior golf, a college player at Lamar and University of Louisiana-Lafayette and a nine-time Beaumont city champion, the CEO of 5 Under Golf Center is targeting an all-inclusive and business-based approach.
“Barriers to entry into golf for years have hurt the game,” he contends. “I want to eliminate barriers, whether it’s accessibility, opportunity, costs, time, social, ability or lack of good instruction and other hurdles. Junior golf and golf in general will suffer if these barriers to entry are not addressed.
“These kids are the future and they hold the keys to the future of what golf looks like for years to come. The game has been lucky to have the appeal of someone like Tiger Woods and it doesn’t get grander than that. But accessibility and barriers to entry to the game are at every level. We have to continue to work the pipeline of kids who are coming.”
Williams’ vision includes securing individual tournament sponsorships, leaning on the likes of area success stories like Chris Stroud, Andrew Landry and Braden Bailey and, well, just pure marketing. He plans to go all out to publicize the area’s junior golf schedule through posters, social media, fliers, clinics and college camps.
“I think the people before me – Mitch Duncan, Ed Campbell, Jerry Honza, Louisa Bergsma – all did a terrific job,” he says. “I just want to try to take junior golf to the next level and enhance an already great product. More importantly I want to increase participation.
“I’ve met with or had discussions with the area pros and they are all in, they have all been supportive. They want to help any way they can. I see a real opportunity to create something special”
Williams has some out-of-the-box ideas like selling sponsorships to offer free tournament entries to non-high-school age kids who wouldn’t be impacted by UIL limitations. He also has the STPGA committed to financial contributions to perhaps be used for participation incentives.
He intends to promote camps and tournaments through middle and elementary schools. He is touting some sort of kick-off party for the once-upon-a-time bursting at the seams, 36-hole YMBL tournament. He’d like to incorporate a Pro-Junior event
“I am looking to create or find ways to bring back what has historically been great for area junior golf,” he declares. “My desire to lead the Beaumont area into its future development of golf and junior golf is incredibly strong. I want kids to have the same opportunities I had as a junior golfer without any limitations.”
For those who would like a little background on the Southern Texas PGA, it was created in Houston in 1994 and is one of 41 PGA of America Sections in the country. It administrates six different junior golf programs in the southern part of Texas and is part owner of a seventh. It will oversee over 400 junior tournaments of players ages 6-18 in 2022.
The Southern Texas PGA’s Beaumont area schedule for this year was recently released. Here is what is scheduled for spring and summer dates. More tournaments could be added.
March 14 – Beaumont Country Club
April 13 – Henry Homberg Golf Course
June 6-7 – YMBL, Bayou Din Golf Club
June 14 – Henry Homberg Golf Course
June 20 – Wildwood Golf Course
June 27 – Beaumont Country Club
June 28 – Country Club of Texas (Brentwood)
July 5 – Babe Zaharias
July 11-12 – Bruce Lietzke, Idylwild Golf Club
July 18 – Sunset Grove Country Club
To sign up for STPGA membership and individual tournaments, parents or junior golfers should go to www.stpgajuniorgolf.com.
CHIP SHOTS: None of the three players with Southeast Texas ties made the seven-under-par cut in the American Express Championship. Chris Stroud came closest at minus 4, while Andrew Landry was plus 3 and Dawie van der Walt was plus 5.
Stroud, who desperately needs to pile up Fed Ex points while playing on a medical exemption, looked to be in good shape after rounds of 69-67. But a five-hole stretch on the back nine on Saturday (his first nine), at the Nicklaus Tournament Course was a knockout blow. Included were double bogeys on the par 5, 15th and the par 4, 18th.
Rain and cold once again limited senior competitions at Babe Zaharias. In the Wednesday, Jan. 19 Zaharias DogFight, played in an all-points-count format, the team of Craig Geoffroy, John House, Keith Marshall and Larry Foster won with 27 points. Second with 26 was the team of Kenny Robbins, Cap Hollier, Ron Mistrot and Brad Royer.
Closest to the pin winners were Larry Johnson (No. 2), Joe Gongora (No. 7), Dale Carter (No. 12) and Robbins (No. 15).
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