Play hard, kids: AJGA represents a corner of the game where fun is key, even in a pandemic

There has been at least one call over the radio in Stephen Hamblin’s career that he’ll never forget.

Years ago, Hamblin, executive director of the American Junior Golf Association, recalls when players removed various items from their condos while competing at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida, and placed them around the golf course. Hamblin will never forget the ironing board, complete with the iron, standing on the putting green and the clothes dryer stuck in a bunker.

“The call came across from a person setting up the golf course, ‘Hey, is a dryer a loose impediment or a (temporary moveable obstruction)?’” he remembered.

This has been Hamblin’s career in junior golf, a corner of the game uniquely suited for, well, fun. The AJGA’s mission statement extends past simply developing high-level golfers. It’s about overall development, and fun is key.

Around AJGA competitions, there are care-for-the-course parties, long-drive contests and banquets. Players write thank you notes, but also play speed golf, throw water balloons and engage in dry heaving contests (a shot over water with the threat of push-ups) at a tournament in Arizona.

“When you would watch kids on the practice putting green, they’re not putting that much, they’re just kind of hanging out,” Hamblin said. That inspired the concept of social events.

Hamblin often goes back to something Earl Woods, Tiger’s father, told him when Tiger played the AJGA circuit in the early 1990s.

“I remember when Tiger got off the golf course, he never went to the range and beat balls afterward,” Hamblin said. “He’d go play ping pong and he’d play for hours and Earl’s comment was, he just grinded for four and a half hours and competed in a stressful environment, now it’s his time to be a kid.’”

Chief among the details that allowed the AJGA to chart a successful return to competition in 2020 amid a pandemic was a limited on-site presence. Tournament fields and on-site spectators were reduced. Normal social gatherings weren’t practical this year amid safety concerns, but social media allowed AJGA staff members to preserve some of the fun.

Communications assistant Dana Brown learned the AJGA ropes as an intern in 2019, so she knew how much of the AJGA’s DNA was in the social aspect when she returned this summer for a second AJGA stint.

“They’re there to play a golf tournament but so much of what I think it great about the AJGA is our juniors become friends with each other,” she said.

Adding TikTok, a video-sharing social network, helped staff engage with players more than anything else.

Teams of twentysomething interns were challenged to post at least one TikTok video from each event. There are swing videos and trophy shots on the AJGA’s social media platforms, which includes Twitter and Instagram, but there are also one-offs

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By: Julie Williams
Title: Play hard, kids: AJGA represents a corner of the game where fun is key, even in a pandemic
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Published Date: Tue, 08 Sep 2020 16:03:46 +0000

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