By Hayley Wilson
The 17u division of PGA Jr. League was created to bridge the gap for players who have aged out of the core 13u division of the program. Highlighted by the launch of its own National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship Season opportunities beginning this year, the 17u division has continued to grow steadily over the years.
And thanks to PGA Jr. League Captains and Coaches like PGA Professional Scott Holmes and PGA Associate Jordan Ray, the 17u division is continuing to flourish.
Based in Virginia and Wisconsin, respectively, Holmes and Ray run successful in-house PGA Jr. League programs. Several similarities ring true between their programs despite the geographical divide, which might just be the universal keys to success.
Both have a passion for making junior golf fun.
Both stress the importance of teaching the life skills that are intrinsically tied to the game.
Both attribute their success to personal relationships, intentional invitations to play and ultimately word of mouth carrying the rest.
Both have booming 17u divisions of over 30 kids.
Holmes’ in-house league at 1757 Golf Club in Dulles, Virginia, has ballooned to 130 kids. He’s taken an All-Star team to the National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Championship. Ultimately, his 31-player 17u division is the cherry on top.
He’s able to cater to a variety of playing abilities through his unique league and team structures. Holmes breaks both his 13u and 17u teams down further into two divisions––one developmental, the other competitive––and he spreads those players across all teams. Meaning, experienced players become mentors to those still learning the game.
“At the end of the day, I want this to be a fun experience,” said Holmes. “I don’t want to throw them to the wolves only for them to hate it and quit golf. I want them to improve their game and work up to the next level.”
Like Holmes, Ray assesses each player with one goal in mind: how can I ensure you have the most fun possible this season?
“That way, they stay in the sport,” Ray explained. “Yes, we’re going to improve their game over the season, but we want to make sure they’re out here having fun. We want to identify why they’re here, either competitively or recreationally, and deliver on that.”
Ray cut his teeth at the very facility he now helms as Head Golf Professional: Lake Windsor Country Club in Windsor, Wisconsin. Like Holmes, he truly believes in building relationships with his players and families and letting word of mouth do the rest of the legwork, to the tune of 82 players participating in his in-house league and 36 on his 17u teams this year.
“It’s personal for me,” said Ray. “I grew up on the same high school team they’re all playing on. I had the same coach. The former head professional here taught me everything.”
In fact, Ray stays connected with that high school golf team, as well as those in the surrounding area. He’s watched his alma mater build their girls team from six to 20 in just a few short years, and he prides himself on the fact that the PGA Jr. League program is almost half-and-half boys and girls.
Most importantly, he’s built a true experience around his PGA Jr. League program. When a player registers for PGA Jr. League, he or she also receives an annual junior membership to Lake Windsor.
“Our players don’t just practice, play and leave,” Ray said. “In the summer, we have 40-50 kids here every day at minimum. The kids bring their parents, and it becomes a whole family-oriented thing that’s so great for the club.”
At the core of both Holmes’ and Ray’s programs and philosophies is building their players’ character, not just their golf games. And, both focus on the lessons learned within winning and losing.
“We always use the saying, ‘Life skills, not golf skills,’” said Holmes. “I’m pretty quiet, but I won’t tolerate disruptive behavior. That’s not what PGA Jr. League is about. It’s about good sportsmanship. Learning from failures is less than optimal, but it’s truly a better teaching experience than winning.”
Ray shared similar sentiments.
“I really want to teach them a life lesson,” said Ray. “That’s why I like golf so much. You’re your own referee, and you have to honor the game. I’m a competitor myself, so I teach the importance of winning and losing because you learn a lot from both.”
Win or lose, PGA Jr. League players are learning and growing from it all.