New team league for Chattanooga junior golfers

New team league for Chattanooga junior golfers

May 15th, 2013 by David Uchiyama in Sports - Golf

Morgan Smith prepares to putt Tuesday afternoon at The Champions Club at Hampton Creek during PGA Junior League practice.

Photo by Connor Choate/Times Free Press.

Lamar Mills has coached hundreds of golfers on their swings as a Class A PGA professional and the general manager at Cleveland Country Club.

But the only team he's ever coach included his daughter, Ellie, when she was on a third-grade basketball squad.

He's coaching again.

Eight Chattanooga-area teams have joined the PGA Junior League, a new format created to retain interest in children ages 7-13 through a format similar to Little League Baseball.

After the Chattanooga teams play against each other, they'll have a chance to play in Florida or for a national championship. Coaches from the Chattanooga chapter of the PGA will select all-star players to compete for greater prizes.

"This is different than anything anybody has seen in a while," said WindStone head professional Jeff Craig, who is a leader in Chattanooga junior golf. "It's a team concept. We think it's a great way to introduce golf to a child who is about 7 to 13 years old."

The area competitions are in connection with the Tennessee PGA and the PGA of America. Chattanooga-based teams -- comprised of youth golfers from Council Fire, Lookout Mountain, Signal Mountain, Cleveland, the Champion's Club at Hampton Creek, Chattanooga Golf and Country Club and the First Tee of Chattanooga -- will play head-to-head matches beginning in the next couple of weeks.

"I feel like [Alabama football coach] Nick Saban trying to recruit kids, and I'm excited," Mills said. "It's something different in my routine that will be a break to unwind and have fun with kids."

The format of coaching and course-vs.-course competition is different for area golf professionals and coaches who have been involved with previous experiments to attract and retain junior golfers.

In the PGA Junior League, two players from each team play a scramble against another team for nine holes. After the third hole or the sixth hole, a coach can substitute another player or a whole two-man team to compete.

"The benefit is that it's for kids who are getting into the game and making it a team sport," said Graham Honeycutt, who works for for the Tennessee PGA. "The end goal is to have it as popular as little league baseball or little league soccer. We want to teach the values and grow the game."

Coaches and administrators admitted there will be hiccups along the way of developing the new youth league. But they believe the benefits outweigh the potential hazards.

"This is more different than anything we've seen," Craig said. "We've figured out a way to bring the team-golf concept which we don't have because golf is so individual. Hopefully we'll keep kids playing the game."

David Vaughn, head golf professional at the Champion's Club at Hamton Creek, held a practice for his team Tuesday afternoon.

"It's made to get kids out there playing and get them interested in the game," Vaughn said. "I've got kids who haven't played very much. It's like being outside and throwing a baseball. You've just got to get kids into it."