Imitation may indeed be the sincerest form of flattery.
The Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado, a collaborative effort of the CGA and the Colorado PGA, with the CWGA being a contributing partner, has drawn plenty of accolades recently following a very successful first season.
But perhaps as rewarding as anything has been other organizations in golf showing interest in replicating the efforts of the associations in Colorado. (Golf associations and PGA Sections in Nebraska and Northern California have similar junior golf partnerships that predate the one in Colorado.)
For instance, this week, CGA executive director Ed Mate and managing director of operations Dustin Jensen attended meetings of the International Association of Golf Administrators in Florida, and the JGAC was a significant topic of discussion.
"I've talked to a lot of people and actually (did a Wednesday presentation) on Junior Golf and Collaboration (below)," noted Jensen, a director of the JGAC along with Colorado PGA assistant executive director Keith Soriano. "It's been great -- tons of people wanting to know how we've forged all the new relationships."
Added Mate: "The best form of recognition would be other states adopting it and fully embracing the model. And I think that's likely to happen. It's not that we're looking for credit; it's just the right thing to do.
"We just finished three days of discussions and best practices with other state and regional golf associations at the IAGA meetings. The Junior Golf Alliance is the best example I've seen in many years of what collaboration can look like. It's great, and I'd like to see more states do it, and I think that will start to happen."
In recent weeks, the Junior Golf Alliance has been recognized for what it's accomplished in its inaugural year. The Colorado Golf Hall of Fame named the JGAC the winner of its Distinguished Service Award, to be presented on May 21 as part of the Hall's induction dinner at the Sanctuary in Sedalia. And last weekend, Mate was given the President's Award by the Colorado PGA, in no small part due to the CGA's role in creating the Junior Golf Alliance with the CPGA.
The idea of the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado -- which was a brainchild of the CGA and Colorado PGA staffs, led, respectively, by Mate and Section executive director Eddie Ainsworth -- is to streamline, improve and expand the junior golf experience in the state.
Membership in the JGAC is up about 16 percent from what it was for the CJGA in 2015, and tournament participation jumped 23.5 percent, not counting PGA Junior League Golf and the Drive, Chip & Putt events.
Kids playing in Colorado-based Drive, Chip & Putt competitions increased almost 15 percent from 2015. For the PGA Junior League Golf in Colorado, the number of kids, teams and facilities participating roughly doubled in 2016 compared to 2015. And if fall projections prove accurate, almost 28 percent more kids will be reached this year than last through the Colorado PGA Golf in Schools Program, with the total for 2016 expected to be 10,101.
Even with some spring events canceled due to the weather, there were more than 80 junior tournaments that the JGAC oversaw in 2016, highlighted by the four major championships for both boys and girls.At the IAGA meetings, "you have a lot of time to talk at lunch and in between meetings, and I got a lot of questions about it," Mate said of the Junior Golf Alliance. "It's definitely got the attention of a lot of people."
Asked his evaluation of the first year of the JGAC, Mate said, "First and foremost I would say it was more successful than I envisioned -- based on the number of members we had, the number of rounds played, the quality of the events that were run and the feedback from parents. Another thing was how successful the majors were and how well-received they were. Everything we set out to do really happened. Other than some software issues that happened early -- and weren't anything we could have anticipated -- we really didn't have any problems.
"The other thing that really stands out is the monumental effort that the team put in in making it such a success. Dustin and Keith and Ashley Barnhart, Holly Champion, the interns ... It's just a big undertaking. The CJGA was a big undertaking, but this was a lot bigger -- more members, more rounds and more moving parts because Drive, Chip & Putt was part of it, PGA Junior League was under its auspices, so I just can't be more pleased in how seamless and successful it was in its first year."
That said, Mate knows there needs to be a concerted effort to maintain the momentum that's been built during the inaugural season of 2016. And there might be a tweak or two in the works.
"One is expansion into western Colorado," Mate said. "That's a high priority next year because we really didn't have much of a footprint (on the Western Slope in 2016). That's definitely in our business plan for next year.
"The challenge going forward -- which is a perennial one -- would be to maintain good communication between us and the PGA. We're the primary organizations that are behind it, and it's a challenge to keep one team on the same page and motivated, (so this) will be exponentially more of a challenge. Frankly there's the (potential) of a year 2 letdown. Year 1 you're just so excited and everything is new and different and you kind of over-prepare because you have something to prove. Then in Year 2 you kind of relax. So if anything (a key priority is) keeping the bar as high as we raised it this year and not relaxing."