Groton -- A recent morning brought activity to the golf range and putting green at Groton Country Club, where young golfers warmed up for a New England PGA Junior Tournament, held there.
Twenty-eight junior members from New England, ages 10 to 18, officially registered for the July tournament through the NEPGA website with four additional walk-ons participating.
Their devotion and passion for the game was apparent in their young eyes. On the range practicing with irons were Nolan Harvey, Kyle Gardener and Chris Hunter, all from Groton and excited to play in the boys 13-14 division. The boys will be entering eighth-grade at Groton-Dunstable Middle School and said they hoped to play on the high school team.
"I practiced here yesterday," said Hunter.
Among the juniors at the putting green, Evan Bunis, 15, from Groton (plays for Groton-Dunstable Regional High School), was competing in the boys 16-18 division and in the NEPGA Junior Tour for a second year.
The NEPGA Junior Tour is a great venue to develop young golfers and foster sportsmanship, as well as provide outstanding competition on a local level. The tour consists of more than 90 tournaments throughout the New England golf season and is open to all junior amateurs, ages 9 through 21, who live in the jurisdiction of the New England section of the PGA.
Jacy Settles, NEPGA Junior Golf Operations and Player Development manager, points out that golf is a game where the player holds himself
"I believe that the game of golf teaches all juniors honesty, integrity and sportsmanship. Considering that all players are held to this standard, it's only natural that juniors show respect to one another," he said.
Settles started playing as a junior at the age of 8 or 9, and said his parents got him involved playing in the IGA-PGA events while growing up in Indiana. He studied sports management at Indiana University and earned his master's degree in sports management from Coventry University in England. Settles worked at the 2004-2005 British Opens and 2006 Singapore and 2007 LPGA SemGroup Championship in Tulsa, Okla. He helped organize PGA events at the Middle Atlantic PGA 2007 and 2009 before coming to New England Professional Golfers' Association.
According to Rod VanGuilder, golf pro at Groton Country Club, GCC first participated in NEPGA Junior tournaments when Brad Durrin was the club golf pro, more than 13 years ago. The NEGPA junior tournament held at the club each year is something VanGuilder looks forward to and said it's a sport where competitors sit down and talk with each other after playing. "The kids make friends for life," said VanGuilder.
At the first tee, NEPGA interns Andrew Reed and John McBride greeted the first group of juniors who don't usually know each other. The young golfers from different New England towns were introduced to their playing partners and traded score cards. Each player keeps the score of their competitor and their own. By the 18th hole, they have made new friends and the round always ends with a handshake.
At the tournaments, Settles said he enjoys seeing juniors help one another with rules questions or simply shaking hands at the end of the round.
"The NEPGA Junior Tour is a perfect place for juniors to experience such a wonderful game and to make new friends," Settles said.
Settles said more is always better when it comes to junior golf participants and hopes to attract more minorities and girls to the Junior Tour. New to the program in 2012 is the Golfer Girls Tour, a nine-hole, noncompetitive event designed to get girls involved in the game of golf, and they do not have to be a member to play.
The sport of golf is literally in juniors' hands, so to speak. "They're the future. They're good golfers and good kids," VanGuilder said, from his golf cart.
For information visit New England Professional Golfers' Association at www.negpa.com/juniorgolf.