A Good Grip on Junior Golf
By Alex Hoffman
Chuck Evans doesn’t mince words when talking about junior golf programs in some other states.
"They don't have a strong junior golf foundation, the junior golf association is not strong and the
facilities don't want juniors because they think it hurts them revenue-wise and the condition of their golf
course," says Evans, a teaching professional based at Tiffany Greens Golf Club and the executive director
of instruction for Medicus Golf.
But that's not the case in the Northland. And the USA Junior National Golf Team has acknowledged
that by selecting Tiffany Greens as a Team Midwest affiliate, joining other training centers like LPGA Hall
of Famer Annika Sorenstam's ANNIKA Academy in Florida.
"All the rest of the countries actually had national junior teams and training, and the U.S., up until two
years ago, has never had one," says Evans, a Golf Magazine Top 100 teacher. "That was not due to lack
of trying, because myself and several others have been harping on this for decades that we needed
junior training just like we do in other countries. So it finally happened two years ago, and it was really
Instruction splits students into five levels. Developmental I is a 12-week program for kids with more
ambition than experience when it comes to competitive golf. In order to advance to Developmental II,
specific benchmarks (more than 90) have to be achieved.
When students have completed what's called Future Stars and Pre-Elite training, they then reach the
Elite level, a group of players that is primed for a college golf career. At Tiffany Greens, there are eight
kids at each of the five levels, and about a dozen of them are from Kansas City.
Brenndan Cooper, who joined Evans on the teaching team from Top of the Rock Golf Course in
Branson, Mo., says Kansas City has been an encouraging environment for junior golf development with
area school districts that have integrated the SNAG (Starting New At Golf) program into their curriculum.
"I don't think we're in a bad place,” Cooper says, “but I think we're right in the middle right now. We
all know that golf has been on the decline since the recession, and there for a while, we were losing a lot
of kids several years ago. We started losing a lot of junior golfers, and the number was going down
considerably every year.
“But now, we're starting to see that trend flatten out. That's why I say it's not good or bad. I think with
the SNAG programs in schools, getting kids introduced to the game, that's where you're going to see it
on the uptick more. We have to think outside the box as instructors and golf professionals too, because
there are a lot of options for kids with sports."
Tiffany Greens has built an exclusive junior training area plus an indoor performance center with the
latest technology to aid with comprehensively evaluating each player. Match strategy is also emphasized
— something college coaches look for.
"We keep statistics on everything and chart everything," Evans says. "So we know that if they have a
particular miss with a particular club at a particular yardage at a particular pin placement, we have that
all boiled down so now we can work in the areas that do give them issues."
And if these juniors really have some game, they can compete internationally for the USA Junior
National team. This year, the top golfers are traveling to Scotland, China and Australia, and they aren't
playing kiddie courses either. Last year they played at St. Andrews in Scotland, the birthplace of golf and
the most famous golf course on the British Open rotation. There's a good supply of junior golfers in the metro who just might have the talent to play for their
country around the world, and the teachers want to attract more players from both sides of the state
line for their next class.
"We are doing all we can to keep kids engaged in the game of golf," Cooper says. "That's why we offer
so many programs like the USA Junior National program, because there are kids out there that have
made up their mind that, 'you know what? I love golf. It's all I want to do, and I want to try to reach as
high a level as I can.' And we're able to help those kids do that."