One of the few places to get away from the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to pick up the clubs and go to the golf course.
The opportunity to be outside, get some exercise and be in a relatively safe environment has seen golfers flood courses for the last six weeks.
Most golf courses have been packed, but with all the golf being played there has been one element of the sport that has been missing. Tournaments.
The Carolinas Golf Association, the South Carolina Golf Association and the Women’s South Carolina Golf Association have either cancelled or postponed all events on their schedules for the last two months and all of May.
The GSA Junior Golf Tour had the Upstate Open scheduled to be played in March, but with an abundance of caution postponed the event at Willow Creek until May.
“We emailed or called many of the families who signed up for the tournament when we were scheduled to play in March to see if they were okay with us going ahead,” said Todd McAlister, one of the Co-founders of the Tour. “We only got a couple of negative comments. Most everyone else wanted us to play,” he said.
The first tournament back was played on May 2 and the Tour had one of the largest fields in its six year history.
The event at Willow Creek included a full field of 92 golfers. Boys and girls from age 6 to 18 and a handful of college players signed up and showed up to play golf with a scorecard in their pocket.
The field was considerably stronger than some of the usual GSA Tournaments. Golfers who might otherwise be playing in high school tournaments or state association events were eager to join the field.
When the high school season in South Carolina was cancelled juniors had no competitive events available so many of them signed up for the event at Willow Creek.
A quick look at the tee sheet saw several high school tournament winners, county champions, two SCJGA champions, a player of the year in high school and another handful of young golfers who had helped their teams win high school events before the season was lost.
“I had fun. It was great to play for something and compete again. I missed it. Without any tournaments to play I was getting rusty,” all were popular opinions expressed by many of the golfers in the field.
McAlister and Tour co-founder Todd Carter have created these tournament opportunities for kids who started around Easley when both men had boys playing junior golf.
“I don’t think either one of us thought we would keep doing this after our kids finished high school,” said Carter. “When our boys finished we kept it going because we had really enjoyed being around the kids and giving them an opportunity to play,” he added.
Carter’s son Matt played at USC Upstate while McAlister’s son plays at Anderson. They both finished their junior careers years ago and their dads are still working with young golfers.
When the Tour began it was designed to be a local way to create tournament playing opportunities for young golfers who may not have been ready for SCJGA events. It also was designed to be economical by playing in the area, families didn’t have hotel and travel expenses.
However, the geographical reach of the Tour expanded as more juniors heard about the opportunity.
The first few years the field was made up of mostly Upstate juniors, now the golfers come from all parts of the state. Some as far away as Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head and more than a few from North Carolina.
“We drove down from Shelby (NC) to play because there isn’t anything going on around us,” said one mom following her son.
Davis Hill from Boiling Springs had the best round of the day carding a 4-under par 68. He finished 3-shots in front of Trey Howard from Woodruff and Calahan Keever from Greenville at 1-under par.
The girls winner was Isabella Britt. Britt was the South Carolina Coaches Association of Women’s Sports AAA Player of the Year last year.
Britt matched Hill’s 4-under par 68 to finish 6-shots in front of Kam Williams from Simpsonville for the age group and overall girls championship.
The tournament leader board was filled with juniors like Britt, who is a rising senior and committed to play at The College of Charleston.
Keever from Greenville, Daniel Brasington from Woodruff and Lleyton Renner from Mauldin all will play college golf.
However, these juniors were not necessarily the players the Tour was designed for, but are always welcome to tee it up.
One of the other goals of the two founders was to give some overlooked juniors one more chance to impress a college coach.
“When I would go to tournaments to see my son play, I always saw some guys who played on our Tour. These were D-II tournaments and I’d like to think some of what we do running these events might have helped a few of them get a chance to play college golf,” said McAlister.
Other division winners included, Boys 10-12, William Allender from Greer. Girls 13-15, Tie-1st, Madison Dixon from Boiling Springs and Maddie Peake from Pauline. Boys 13-15, Tip Price from Greenville. Boys 8-9, Montgomery Allender from Greer.
The college division winners were Katie Whitfield from Clemson and Francois Jacobs from League City, TX.
The two directors were pleased with the results of the first tournament back and especially pleased the players and parents observed social distancing on the course and around the clubhouse.
“We were worried about that, but everyone followed the instructions and made it a very safe day,”said McAlister who also gave the players one last instruction before the start of play.
“At the end of the round don’t be hugging anyone,” he said half seriously and half kidding.
The next tournament is scheduled for Saturday May 9th at Star Fort Golf Club in Ninety Six followed by a two-day tournament on May 16th-17th at the Carolina Country Club in Spartanburg.
The full schedule along with results, scores and records is available online at https://www.bluegolf.com/junior/programs/gsagolf/index.html
Hear from GSA Junior Golf Tour Directors, Todd McAlister and Todd Carter about reopening their Tour season.