Award-Winning Start - AJGA names Hale Irwin Colorado Junior its Newcomer of the Year

Posted on January 28, 2016

The inaugural AJGA Hale Irwin Colorado Junior presented by MusclePharm certainly was a memorable affair. It featured a Q&A and clinic by Irwin, a World Golf Hall of Famer and three-time U.S. Open champion; a CommonGround course-record 61 in the final round by the boys champion (Texan Reese Ramsey) that tied the low 18-hole score in the 37-year history of the AJGA; and three holes-in-one in round 1 of the event, including two from the same threesome of girls.

Given all that happened, it should come as no surprise that on Thursday the AJGA announced that the Hale Irwin Colorado Junior has been named winner of the association's Newcomer of the Year Award for 2015. According to AJGA officials, there were about 40 new events on the 2015 AJGA schedule.

The first AJGA Hale Irwin Colorado Junior was held in early June at CommonGround Golf Course, a facility owned and operated by the CGA, which played a major role at the tournament. Between 20 and 30 people volunteered for the event each day.

The award "validates all of the hard work and teamwork that went into planning the event," CGA executive director Ed Mate told the AJGA. "It definitely takes a village to put on a golf tournament and our case was no different. This award is a recognition of everyone who made it possible from the planning committee, Colorado Golf Association staff and volunteer leaders and the CommonGround Golf Course team who made sure the course was presented in the best light possible."

The tournament raised more than $21,000 for the Colorado Golf Foundation and the AJGA's Achieving Competitive Excellence (ACE) Grant.

The second annual AJGA Hale Irwin Colorado Junior will be held June 6-9 at Highlands Ranch Golf Club. The 2015 Newcomer of the Year Award will be presented to tournament officials at that time.

(Pictured above, Irwin signs an autograph for a girl who attended the clinic he conducted at CommonGround.)

The Hale Irwin Elite Player Program is just a little more than three years old, but in that short period, it's certainly lived up to its name.

The first three classes of Irwin Elite Players featured seven golfers who are now playing or have signed with NCAA Division I golf programs: Hannah Wood (Oklahoma), Jennifer Kupcho (Wake Forest), Spencer Painton (Kansas), Jake Staiano (Colorado State), Ross Macdonald (Colorado), Calli Ringsby (Stanford) and Coby Welch (just signed with Northern Colorado).

And two of those players -- Kupcho and Wood -- currently stand among the top 75 in the women's World Amateur Golf Rankings.

With that as a backdrop, the Hale Irwin Elite Player Program announced its fourth -- and largest -- class on Thursday. Fourteen junior golfers will comprise the 2016 Elite Player class, including seven returnees from 2015. The group features nine boys and five girls, with two sets of siblings among them.

The program, designed to nurture the budding careers of exceptionally promising boys and girls golfers in the state, is named for the most successful golfer with Colorado roots. Irwin, a Boulder High School and University of Colorado graduate, has won three U.S. Opens, 20 PGA Tour events overall, and a record 45 tournaments on the Champions Tour. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1992.

In Colorado, Irwin claimed the 1962 CGA Junior Match Play title, the 1963 state high school championship, three straight CGA Stroke Plays (1963, '64 and '65) and the CGA Match Play in 1966. He won the NCAA individual title in 1967 while competing for CU.

The players chosen for the Irwin Elite Player Program receive free unlimited use of the practice range and Kids Course at CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora -- and of the championship course on a space-available basis -- in 2016. CommonGround, which opened in 2009, is owned and operated by the CGA, which established and administers the Irwin Elite Player Program. The group will meet once a month beginning in January, and will work periodically at CommonGround with Elena King, who recently was named one of the top 10 instructors in Colorado by Golf Digest. Additionally, participants volunteer with CGA Community and Wellness Programs.

Steve Irwin, Hale's son, serves on the CGA board of governors and was instrumental in the establishment of the Elite Player Program. The visionary behind the program was another CGA governor, former Cherry Hills Country Club head professional Clayton Cole.