By Gary Baines – 2/11/2019
The opportunity presented itself basically out of the wild blue yonder, which seems only appropriate given that those words come straight out of the official song of the U.S. Air Force.
Last summer during the U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, USGA staffer Mark Hill approached CGA executive director Ed Mate, asking if the golf powers that be in Colorado would be interested in hosting the U.S. Girls’ Junior, arguably the top golf championship in the world for female amateurs 18 and under.
“I said, ‘Of course we’d be interested,'” Mate recalled on Monday. And after having some discussions with Colorado PGA executive director Eddie Ainsworth, it didn’t take long for a plan to take shape.
“There were a few bumps in the road and a few conversations, but overall it was that simple,” Mate said.
Fast forward to Monday, and the USGA was at Eisenhower Golf Club announcing that the 2020 U.S. Girls’ Junior was headed to the Blue Course at the Air Force Academy. And the main reason everything came together was the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado, an organization founded by the CGA and the Colorado PGA and launched in 2016.
“How can you not talk about the reason why we’re here?” Ainsworth said on Monday. “The reason why we’re here is because of the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado.”
In its press release announcing the site for the 2020 U.S. Girls’ Junior — which will be held July 13-18 — the USGA said the Junior Golf Alliance will be the “host group for the championship.”
It’s a big responsibility, with the potential for a big payoff in terms of major exposure — the event is expected to be televised nationally by the family of Fox networks — and helping grow the game.
“It’s an honor to be part of a national championship,” said Mike Schultz, president of the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado. “I have a soft spot in my heart for junior golf. I have a soft spot in my heart for girls junior golf.
“This is the next logical step for the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado. We’ve hosted many championships (including) AJGA championships. Now we have the opportunity with the USGA and the Air Force Academy to host the 2020 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. It’s a phenomenal opportunity.
“The exposure is a big deal, but our mission is to grow the game — for junior boys and for junior girls — so it’s all part of our core mission and all part of the process. I can’t think of a better way to do it.”
Monday’s announcement was particularly special to Ainsworth, given his background. His dad served in the U.S. Air Force for 30 years, reaching the rank of chief master sergeant. Ainsworth himself was the PGA general manager at Eisenhower Golf Club for 10 years (1998-2008) before being hired as the Colorado PGA’s executive director. And obviously now he heads one of the organizations that runs the Junior Golf Alliance.
Add it all up, and the fact that Eisenhower will be the first U.S. military-affiliated course to host a USGA championship, and it was easy to see why Ainsworth had a smile on his face on Monday.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a special moment,” he said. “For me, I still bleed Air Force blue. I’m the son of a retired Air Force chief master sergeant for 30 years. I managed this place for 10 years. When we were looking at sites, I was adamant that this should be where we do this. I’ve known the golf course superintendent here for 20-plus years, so I know what product he and the PGA head professional here will put together. To do it here, in my hometown, at the foot of America’s mountain — all those things give me special pride.”
Make no mistake: The JGAC has not only played a large role in making the 2020 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Eisenhower a reality, but it has a considerable vested interest in seeing the national championship be a success.
Specifically, the Alliance will be responsible for raising $400,000 for the event.
“The USGA’s business model for all their amateur championships is they depend on the local community to raise the money needed to put on a one-of-a-kind, world-class championship,” Mate said. “A lot of people scratch their heads and say, ‘What does that money go to?’ The short answer is, it makes the experience really special for the players.
“Things like having to close both golf courses (at Eisenhower) for five days, having a players’ dinner that’s really special, making sure every detail is taken care of — the practice range setup, the way the golf course is conditioned … Anyone who has played in a USGA championship will tell you it’s the highlight of their golf career. Even PGA Tour players, you’ll ask them what was the best event you ever played in, it’s often a USGA championship, maybe because they’re so young and impressionable (at the time.
“So we have to raise the money to make sure that experience is delivered. The USGA is doing the heavy lifting. They’re staffing it and they’re managing the event, then we help out locally. That’s actually a positive because it makes the local community have skin in the game. We have to raise $400,000. That number is intentionally ambitious because we want to make sure we don’t leave any stone unturned.”
Already, the Alliance has announced “partnership opportunities” for the event ranging from $100 each to $25,000 each. And, so sponsors get a sense of what their money will buy, specifics are assigned at each level. For example, under the $25,000 platinum sponsorship, the needs listed are “welcome party sponsor, transportation sponsor and food and beverage sponsor.”
“The donors start to connect the dots (when you do that), so it’s not just throwing blank checks at a tournament; you’re really connecting with one of the elements of the tournament that make it special that you’re supporting,” Mate said.
Despite the fundraising challenges ahead, Mate and Ainsworth see this U.S. Girls’ Junior “host group” status for the Junior Golf Alliance as a major big-picture win for the organization.
“I loved today’s announcement because every speaker touched on the common denominator of the missions of the Air Force Academy, the USGA and the Junior Golf Alliance all being to intill values in young people and create leaders,” Mate said. “It’s a great way to show how golf is used as extension to build stronger community and stronger leaders.
“If this (opportunity) had come along three or four years ago, we weren’t ready. The Junior Golf Alliance is ready now. It’s an inflection point for us to take it to new heights.”
Added Ainsworth: “When we started down this path several months ago, we looked at this as an opportunity to really solidify what we’re doing through the Junior Golf Alliance in hosting a major championship. So it’s extremely important. Once again, it shows how committed we are — the Colorado Golf Association, the Colorado PGA — through the Junior Golf Alliance to make it everything junior golf in Colorado.”