Amid the pandemic, golf has been one of the few things millions of Americans feel comfortable doing. The sport has seen a remarkable boom, and the natural follow-up question is how long this will continue after we get to whatever is the next new normal.
For thousands of aspiriging collegiate golfers, however, the pandemic has thrust their future into some measure of doubt.
While the AJGA and other elite junior golf tours have been able to safely put on tournaments for top-tier players, high schools and secondary schools around the country suspended golf programs in the spring and fall of 2020. Depending on what happens in the coming months, the spring 2021 golf season may be a wash for many players.
For players who have lost one, maybe two, seasons of their high-school careers, their competitive development may be stunted. They’ve lost chances to put together scoring averages in sanctioned events to build a profile that might get the attention of collegiate coaches. Their academic record has been thrown into a sort of limbo. Perhaps the last year has made them rethink when they want to start college after high school.
With the collegiate golf recruiting process thrown for a big loop, both junior golfers and their parents need more clarity and answers about what comes next.
Junior Golf Hub hopes to be that beacon, seeking to connect aspiring collegiate golfers to college coaches.
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PGA of America teaching professional Roger Knick had noticed many of his junior players and their parents didn’t have the knowledge they needed to get from junior golf to collegiate golf. In 2017, Knick launched Junior Golf Hub, hoping to provide parents with the information they needed.
Parents and junior golfers “weren’t really equipped with a game plan and the knowledge of the thigns they had to do, and they didn’t really have the tools to execute on the knowledge or game plan they had,” said Rick Dowling, the company’s Customer Success Manager and a former collegiate golfer himself.
“We built the hub to centralize educational resources and a powerful toolset to support these families on that journey.”
Junior Golf Hub offers players a portal to connect with collegiate coaches, but it’s more than that. JGH offers a hub of information, including answers to the important questions junior golfers and their parents have. Golfers have to learn where they are relative to their competition and where they need to be to achieve their goals. They need to know what their dream schools are looking for and become aware of potential alternatives. With interactive Q&As and other sessions, JGH offers a direct connection to the decision makers who are forming their teams and looking for their next recruiting class.
Dowling said the landscape of collegiate golf recruiting has changed dramatically in the last five years, meaning even those who have been through the process as players may have out-of-date information that could hinder a junior. The talent pool is also deeper than ever.
“It’s just as competitive as ever, with a larger talent pool, a more international talent pool,” Dowling said. “I think it’s grown and enhanced over time, which makes it more difficult on the family and the coach. The game is so rapidly changing… It can be difficult to catch up.”
The good news, though, is that it is possible to get back on track. Dowling said golfers often overestimate where they need to be in terms of scoring average to find a Division I program. There are programs for boys for shoot in the 80s and girls who shoot in the 90s. They may offer scholarship opportunities. Junior Golf Hub makes juniors and their parents more aware of the universe out there — one that is quickly changing as some programs are ended entirely over budget cuts, forcing some players back into the recruitment process.
Dowling suggests junior golfers and their families should start considering college golf when it becomes apparent that’s a goal. That could happen as soon as 10 years old. However, that doesn’t mean a child’s life has to be centered on this goal from Day 1. There’s a natural progression. Dowling cautioned, however, that golfers should have a plan by the time they get to junior year of high school.
“If you get to junior year of high school without having any preparation in place, then you’re behind the 8-ball. Start thinking freshman year about lining things up,” he said.
One day, things will get back to more like they once were. And yet, so much will be different. Recruiting will have adjusted and the process will evolve. The next few classes of junior golfers and their parents will step into a changed world, and they’ll be challenged to negotiate it on their own.
Dowling said, “You’ll see the impact of [COVID-19] for 3, 4 or 5 years.”