The event, which was free for the youngsters and their families, featured competitions, clinics and exhibitions. Saturday’s festivities were a part of the Niswonger Children’s Hospital Classic, which opened up earlier this summer with Birdies for Bucks and a celebrity tournament at the Olde Farm Country Club.
The main draw on Saturday was a local qualifier for the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship where the top three players in each age division were able to take their first step toward the finals, which will take place at Augusta National Golf Club the day before the Masters Golf Tournament next April.
In just its third year, the local qualifier is a good indication of how healthy junior golf is on the local level.
“We started off three years ago and we had 82 kids registered,” said Cody Weems, the Tri-Cities Regional Director at the Tennessee Golf Foundation. “Today we have 160 kids registered to compete. It’s definitely grown.”
There were several volunteers on hand to make sure the event ran smoothly. Among them was Johnson City vice-mayor Jenny Brock, who has worked with junior golfers for about a decade in her capacity as a coach in the First Tee program.
Brock said her passion for working with young golfers is a continuation of her life’s work as a teacher.
“I was in education, and I’m a teacher at heart,” Brock said. “I love golf, so when I retired, I decided I wanted to teach golf. So I went off and got my teaching credentials.”
After teaching private lessons, Brock found a home at First Tee, where she continues to volunteer with a program that is growing by leaps and bounds in our area.
“It was a perfect fit, so I strictly do First Tee now,” she said. “We’ve really expanded and we’re growing the game, and that’s what we really need to be doing.”
While the golf industry has suffered through an extended downturn, there is hope that organizations like First Tee and events like the one held on Saturday will be able to capture a new generation of players and revitalize the game of golf. Brock said golf is a healthy habit that can last a lifetime.
“For me, as a senior now, it’s an activity I’ll do as long as I possibly can,” she said. “It’s just one of those things that you can keep doing.”
The Niswonger Children’s Hospital Classic boasts one more community event, which will take place on Aug. 18 at the Blackthorn Club. The Nine at Night event will feature glow-in-the-dark golf games as well as food, beverages and live music. Visit www.NiswongerGolf.org for more information.