AJGA tournament good for business

Eric Feely, general manager of the The Bridges of Montrose, and Sydney Dell Flora, American Junior Golf Association tournament director, go over details of the AJGA Junior Open at The Bridges, presented by the City of Montrose. The event is being laid this week at The Bridges. (Michael Cox/Special to the Montrose Daily Press) 

Snagging a college golf team scholarship is a big deal. Snagging a major event, like AJGA Junior Open at The Bridges presented by the City of Montrose, to be played in your town is another big deal.

First of all, scholarships offer youngsters, otherwise unable to attend college or to pursue competitive golf as a vocation, a chance to live their dream.

Secondly, college golf, the next step after junior golf, has become a big deal. College golf is highly competitive and is the “farm system” for the PGA and other professional tours in the world. The leaderboard on the PGA Tour on any given Sunday is populated mostly by great college players like Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa and a host of others. Because junior golf programs like AJGA showoff the talents of tomorrow’s golf stars, there are 1,000 college coaches who belong to and support the AJGA. There is a good chance that one or more of those coaches will be in Montrose for the action during the AJGA Junior Open.

So, more than 150 players, nine AJGA staff, plus families and friends means as many as 800 visitors will be in town for the event, according to AJGA experience in other cities. And, that is another big deal.

“I am very excited to see a national level tournament come to Montrose,” says Montrose City Councilor Dave Frank. “The city of Montrose has a long history of supporting youth golf, as is evidenced by our excellent high school golf teams and our youth golf programs at Black Canyon Golf Course. This tournament is drawing players and their families from all across the world to Montrose for four to five nights. Our Office of Business and Tourism, through the hard work of Ashley Pietak, created an opportunity for Montrose to appear on the world stage as a quality destination for youth golf.”

The Montrose City Council budgeted $40,000 to be the name sponsor for the event. One of the major forces in attracting the event to Montrose was Ty Jennings, father of competitor Jordan Jennings.

Monday morning, 78 young golfers, ages 12 to 19, will tee it up on the golf course at The Bridges of Montrose. That field will be chasing a remaining nine opportunities to play in the main event of the Montrose American Junior Golf Association Open to be played Tuesday through Thursday. There are 69 players already qualified to play in the event. Montrose players Jordan Jennings, Connor Bell and Noah Richmond are in the qualified field. Jake Legg will be in the Monday qualifying round.

AJGA Tournament Director Sydney Della Flora has been in town for the past several days, handling the final details of setting up the course and other logistics with The Bridges’ staff. Sydney is one of the energetic, young people who make the AJGA system work. An Ohioan, with a degree in event management from Bowling Green, she is up to any question, like what is the mission of the AJGA?

“We raise money for junior golf and college scholarships. We show off the talents of the best young golfers in the world,” Della Flora says. She says there are three international players in the Montrose event. The organization has been in existence since 1978 and has more than 7,300 members, plus the 1,000 coaches. “We have raised almost $17 million for scholarships and we have raised four million for other charities.”

This week there are six AJGA events being held in all corners of the USA, including one at Forest Lakes in Michigan, the sister course to The Bridges club. This year more than 100 such tournaments will be staged as the AJGA opens the showcase of junior golf talent to the world.

Montrose and The Bridges Golf Club has joined the efforts of the AJGA by becoming a summer stop on the biggest golf tour in the world. While the event is about raising money for junior golf locally, it is also about the future of golf and the economy of Montrose.

“These events are good for junior golf and the college system, but the AJGA is also the best promoter of youngsters taking up the game we have,” says Eric Feely, general manager of The Bridges. “From an operator’s point of view, the event is good for business in Montrose, but it, and the others like it, are good for the golf business down the road by helping youngster take up the game.”

With a state champion high school team, Montrose has already proven itself as a cradle for junior golf. Further, there are few communities in the world as small as Montrose that have three excellent golf venues.

Della Flora says that they were excited to find a course the caliber of The Bridges. “The players are looking forward to the challenge.”

One of the fundraisers during this event will be the Junior/AM event played Monday afternoon, in which teams of Montrose area amateurs will be joined by a competitor from the Open. The Open competition will be played Tuesday through Thursday with tee times beginning at 8:30am. Spectators are welcome, and there is no admission charge.

There won’t be any trucks from the Golf Channel parked next to The Bridges clubhouse this week, but there will be about 800 folks in town, everyone of which, you can bet, will have a smart phone and they will be texting, tweeting, Instagraming, and emailing the fact that they are in Montrose, Colorado at the AJGA open.

Maybe a tweet like, “Oh, and after the round we went up to that Gunnison Gorge at sunset. What a sight. You have got to see it. Patrick shot 73.”

That’s another big deal.

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