While most of the attention at The Junior Players Championship was on the top 78 junior players in the world, there was another set of players who were just as excited to be at TPC Sawgrass. However, the reason for their excitement was not the thought of winning one of the AJGA’s most prestigious tournaments. They were excited for the mere fact that they were going to be able to meet those competing for the trophy.
It was the chance of a lifetime for the young golfers in Help Us Golf (HUG), Healing Every Autistic Life (HEAL) and the Special Olympics to be able to interact and compete with many of the world’s best junior golfers.
The idea to bring these players together was that of Tournament Chairman Billy Dettlaff. He organized the event which included trick shots, a skills competition and juniors being paired up with golfers from HUG, HEAL and the Special Olympics in a team challenge.
“Hopefully the evening was inspirational on both sides,” Dettlaff said. “For our campers, to be able to see the best players in the world and then for those (AJGA) players to hopefully realize the blessings they have. And they did a beautiful job giving back tonight.”
The teams of AJGA juniors and campers were a union of kids from varying backgrounds, but their common love for the game of golf brought them together for a fun-filled evening.
Fifteen juniors came out after the tournament’s first round to participate in the event. Many were impressed with the campers’ knowledge of the game and were happy to be part of such a special activity.
“We don’t really get to do this often, even at other Invitationals, but it was really special here,” said Michael Kim, who is No. 27 in the Polo Golf Rankings. “It was really fun to see them play and it is great to be able to pass the game along to them.”
It was not just a learning experience for the campers, but many juniors were able to take important lessons from the campers.
“These kids really allow you to put things in perspective,” said Oliver Schniederjans, who would go on to finish tied for eighth at The Junior Players Championship. “We are playing an unbelievable golf course, getting lots of neat things and we are really lucky to be here. So it’s great to work with the special-needs kids and tonight makes you feel good about what you’re doing on and off the course.”
In the eyes of the juniors, campers, and all those involved, the evening was a huge success, especially since it was the first year the clinic was held at the Tour Academy at TPC Sawgrass. The faces on both the campers and juniors were enough evidence of the success of this first-year event.
“The AJGA kids just wrapped their arms around the campers and it was definitely a warm experience tonight,” Dettlaff said.