Angst has developed in recent years about how to perpetuate and sustain interest in golf for generations to come. Of all the initiatives out there for “growing the game”, the national Drive, Chip, & Putt Championship that culminates at Augusta National the Sunday before the Masters has to be the most successful of them all.
In a rare moment of cooperative planning and execution the folks from the Masters Tournament, USGA, and PGA of America have fashioned a national golf skill competition for boys and girls ages 7 to 15. Using the successful template of the NFL’s Pass, Punt, and Kick competition combined with an iconic venue for the finals like the Little League World Series, they have created an enticing competitive treat for kids with an itch for the game.
The cannon fire starts Sunday morning with the opening tee shotsEmbed from Getty Images
This has become a huge deal for kids who relish the chance to walk the emerald green fairways, sniff the aroma of pine straw, and emulate the accomplishments of their golf heroes on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. In just three years the participation levels are astounding with tens of thousands of kids from every state in the union registering each year to play in local, sub-regional, and ten regional qualifying events. In the end, 40 boys and 40 girls anticipate a cherished personal invitation to travel with their family for the final stage competition at Augusta National.
The creators of the DCP Championship did their homework and made sure it has all the characteristics to capture the attention of young kids and foster the growth of their interest in the game.
First they picked an iconic venue, Augusta National, that runs it’s events with clockwork efficiency. With the help of the Augusta members as officials everything from the invitations to the celebration dress-up dinner the night before to Sunday’s final competition has all the swag and kool of a major sporting event.
The Golf Channel presentation of the final stage of the competition has all the pomp and circumstance we have come to know at The Masters. Past champions like Adam Scott, Nick Faldo, Bubba Watson, and other celebrity dignitaries put the full polish on the experience for these kids and make it a day they will never forget.
Seen this on TV before….a young matador striking his best Chi-Chi poseEmbed from Getty Images
Second they made sure the emphasis of this celebration is on family. Like they do at the Little League World Series in Williamsport each summer the kids participating have the unbridled emotion and support of their family members in attendance on full display.
As we know of the young stars who make it on the PGA and LPGA Tours, golf takes a family mentor, usually a parent or a relative to introduce the game to a kid and steward their development. Whether it is schlepping them to the course, hanging with them on the practice green doing creative short game drills, explaining the fastidious etiquette the game demands, or spending hours on the course sharing one-on-one time, it takes the dedication of a mentor to nurture golf interest. Of course this is usually followed by the ritual apre-game milkshake run to discuss the blow-by-blow details of the day’s events all over again.
Hours of practice are required to get this fist pump just right
Third, the genius of the competitive format is that it tests combined performance in driving, chipping, and putting talents that all young golfers have in their skill set. With real passion for the game and lots of after school or weekend hours of practice any kid who catches this competition on TV can fashion and pursue the dream of making it to Augusta.
In the end it is a real skills competition-a kid cannot simply participate and move one. Only the best in each gender/age group advance at each stage so there is real-time pressure to get to the next level of the competition. As Nick Faldo said while observing this week at Augusta, it is such a unique opportunity for the young kids to set a goal to get here and have to compete to accomplish it. Imagine competing in a skills competition at the most iconic venue in golf-it is like being thrown in the deep and proving you can swim.
The goal for all of them…..seeing their names on a Major LeaderboardEmbed from Getty Images
All 80 kids who make it to the finals learn a host of life lessons from the experience. Maybe the most important one is the humility that golf teaches us every weekend when we compete with our friends. To paraphrase Peter Jacobson, these kids learn that for even the greatest champions in the game there are times when they will win and times when they will lose. In the end it is learning how to handle both of these situations with dignity that matters.
The annual DCP Championship fans the enthusiasm of kids across the country for the game we love and gives them the rare opportunity to experience it on a field of dreams.
What could be better than this for introducing golf to the next generation and growing the game.