Ask all LPGA Tour players about their junior golf experience and one person they will be opening up with their parents’ financial sacrifices. That’s because junior golf is expensive. Not four people in a steakhouse, but a mortgage payment – pretty expensive every week. Even if it’s cheap between travel, hotels, food, entrance fees and equipment, a summer of competitive junior golf in America costs more than the average Ukrainian family makes in a year. Ask a junior golfer’s parents about the college-scholarship talks and you will likely get a chuckle. Because if all of the money spent on junior golf had been put into a 529 college savings plan, they could have sent their children to Harvard.
But this is anything but a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s as old as junior golf itself.
Nobody knows this better than the LPGA Hall of Famer Judy Rankin. More than 60 years ago, she saw how squeeze golf can bet on a family. And she will forever remember the help she received from others.
“I had this experience as a little girl when my father accepted me into the National Peewee in Orlando,” Rankin told me. “My mother was very sick and we didn’t have a lot of money. I played golf on this little 9-hole course (in St. Louis) and the members there gave me a brand new $ 400 suitcase. We used that and went to the National Peewee and I actually won it. But I’ll always remember the suitcase with the $ 400. “
Rankin used the memory as a catalyst to start the JTR Suitcase Fund, a charity that aims to provide junior middle and senior golfers in West Texas with travel money for summer golf.
“Where I live (in Midland, Texas) I don’t want to call it remote, but it’s smaller little towns and cities,” said Rankin. “And their contact with professional golf is pretty low. The idea for the JTR (Rankin’s Initials) Suitcase Fund came about because we try to take in children who really love golf and / or who were very good at it and to cover part of their play costs in the summer.
“You don’t have to be very good to get help from our fund. We are about loving the game, caring about having a passion or gambling addiction that you can pass on to your family or friends, ”said Rankin. “But one of the pluses is that there are some very good players (in our area) and they have been exposed to us. But there are only a few good players who I think will play golf for the rest of their lives. “
Through a partnership with the Volunteers of America Classic, the JTR Suitcase Fund brings junior golfers to the VOA Classic to experience the championship and participate in the Pro-Am. On Wednesday Angela Aguirre, Lainey Cristan, Jules Crow, Ryann Honea and Sara Reid everyone played in the Pro-Am and then went to dinner with Texas native and LPGA Hall of Famer, Kathy Whitworth.
“There aren’t many opportunities for us to interact with girls this age unless their families or friends pay to have them play in the Pro-Ams,” said Esther Lee, who was allowed to play with two juniors because of Rankin . “I thought it was pretty cool.
“But it also felt kind of scary because these girls aren’t much younger than me. It was only four years or so ago that I was in their position, looking up to the LPGA Tour players and wanting to be in their position. How we behave towards them and how we represent ourselves influences them. It feels like a huge responsibility. But it’s good because there is advice out there that I wish I had been told to myself by someone who plays at this level at her age. When I came here (on the LPGA tour) I was so new and so scared. It’s good that they had the opportunity to ask their questions. ”
This is the fifth year the Volunteers of America Classic has partnered with the JTR Suitcase Fund. So far, 25 juniors have had the opportunity to ask players like Lee questions about the tour, their lives and what it means to be a player on the LPGA Tour.
“It’s not easy to find a lot of young girls who are told that they need financial help to go gambling in the summer,” said Rankin. “But we gave a lot of money. And we have a pretty straightforward verification process. We also now have a process whereby if you have been accepted and are still playing (golf) we will give you money for the remainder of your high school years. If we gave it to you as a newcomer, you will get help for the next three years.
“All of these kids were pretty good citizens,” said Rankin. “Our mission is to help children travel. Anyone who has succeeded in the game will tell you that you need to learn to get out of your own little bubble or your own little piece of state and travel your game. But junior golf is incredibly expensive. Then when you consider families with three or four children, you’re just being tricked.
“I am happy that we can help these children. And I hope we continue to find the kids who think that’s the coolest thing. ”