Junior golf is big business. From the AJGA to US Kids Golf to all kinds of opportunities, high-level junior golfers can play competitively to their heart's content. In fact, junior golfers can tour as much as pros to these cross-country and international competitions.
Ari Flaisher believes there's a glaring gap for accomplished junior golfers that's not missing in other junior sports. They have all-star games and teams and awards for the best players from each state. Golf doesn't.
It's with that disparity in mind, in part, that the We Are The Fifty junior tournament has been created.
"I was thinking about how golf is organized and how there are essentially 50 mini USGAs out there around the country conducting state-wide championship tournaments," Flaisher said. "I then thought about how other sports and industries roll up their champions because golf lacks its own All-America contest."
The idea is to get as many of the state-level junior golf champions together, in one place, to forge relationships and offer an extra bonus to these accomplished players.
The inaugural We Are The Fifty (WAT50) is June 11-13 at Hammock Beach Resort in Florida. The 36-hole event will have individual competitions for boys and girls in 15-and-under and 18-and-under competitions, with only winner of state golf association and PGA section junior championships invited to participate.
In reality, only so many families can afford the kind of rigorous schedule and dent in the budget that comes with high-level junior golf. Many families with a child or children competing at that level view it as a long-term investment in their offspring, with high hopes they'll advance into a great collegiate golf program and perhaps even play professionally some day.
For the families of talented and accomplished junior players who lack that kind of bankroll, the options aren't as plentiful. That's unfortunate, as many kids are talented enough to win at the state and regional level but can't take it much beyond there, leaving them somewhat in the wilderness while some of their peers can chase competition in a deeper pool at the national and international level.
"There are some serious differences for certain states and not much difference in other states or almost no difference in states where the best players routinely play their state championships," Flaisher said. "Players deserve to have their playing fields leveled and that’s our greatest hope so that no matter your ranking or state championship you get to meet and compete against your peer champions."
It's $295 to enter. Flaisher is hoping to reduce the barriers many players face in getting to compete against peers on their level -- not just cost but the idea of competing in a rankings-driven system for membership.
He added, "In a perfect world there would be more access to more events and the resources required to attend and play would be subsidized."
The concept has been appealing to the state associations, as WAT50 can be billed as another reward for their best players.
"At the state association level, around the country we have been received warmly and with some measured excitement," Flaisher said. "There are over 50 associations that conduct state championships and we reached out to them all. We wanted them to hear directly from us and hear how we are approaching something they work in and are the experts of. That way they could learn about us from us, and we could develop a critical working relationship for how we get the WAT50 message out from them to players. So the states are helping as much as they can and we are grateful for anything they can do for us and their players."
Year 1 for any new concept like this is tough. It comes down to building awareness within the industry, the state associations, PGA sections and the potential players.
"We have had a lot of great conversations with golf industry professionals that turned into successful partnerships," Flaisher said. "So clearly experienced golf people see how our concept is both valid and able to fill a hole on the annual golf calendar. So the awareness aspect is something that we keep making progress on and that in turn will hopefully translate into a fuller field of players."
So far, there are more than 20 players representing 15 states. Industry companies are supporting the event, including presenting sponsor Mizuno, Imperial, Lee Wybranski, Macdonald Leathergoods, Tin Cup and Winston Collection. Providing a great tournament-week experience with the right kind of exposure for these up-and-coming players can lay the groundwork for future years.
"In five years, I personally want WAT50 to look like an organization that annually provides ample opportunities for more players to play more national golf championship events," Flaisher said. "It's my goal that WAT50 will have enough name brand recognition so that when someone tees it up in their state event they know what awaits the winner and his or her peer. I hope WAT50 will look like a nationwide community of golfers who call themselves state champions that is fully adopted and supportive of those that believe in what we are doing to make a positive difference."