LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Clubs Celebrate 20th Anniversary
By Rhonda Glenn, USGA
In 1989, 20 Girl Scouts in Phoenix, Ariz., gathered for golf clinics to learn to play the game, make friends and, above all, have fun. Two decades later, that modest effort to introduce young girls to the game has evolved into a thriving, nationwide program that’s touched more than 60,000 girl golfers from every walk of life. In its 20th anniversary year, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf continues to help girls ages 7 to 17 enjoy the passion, the challenge and the fun of the game.
One of the most well-known LPGA-USGA Girls Golf graduates is Brittany Lincicome, winner of the 2009 LPGA Tour Kraft Nabisco Championship. Lincicome was 10 years old when she became part of a club in her hometown of Largo, Fla. Today, the 24-year-old rising LPGA star is a national ambassador for LPGA-USGA Girls Golf.
“I would absolutely recommend this to any girl looking to have fun and to learn how to be a better golfer,” said Lincicome. “You really can learn a great deal, including things that you can use in your everyday life.”
Building a program that this year will involve 6,000 girls at 200 sites takes a lot of behind-the-scenes effort. In the beginning, however, it was one person – Sandy LaBauve, an LPGA teaching professional and PGA of America member – whose drive got the project underway.
In 1989, LaBauve was conducting weekly golf clinics for Girl Scouts at the behest of Kerry Graham, president of the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional division.
“We had a blast!” said LaBauve. “The girls were quick learners for the six weeks of the series, but disappointed when it ended.”
LaBauve and Graham wanted to expand the clinics and conduct tournaments for all girls, so they began a far-reaching pilot golf program, called the Junior Girls Golf Club, in Phoenix that same year. It was financed for three years by seed money from the USGA, the LPGA and private funds.
By 1992, the program was such a success that LaBauve traveled to 10 American cities to set up additional golf programs for girls, along the way laying the foundation, with Graham, for what would become LPGA-USGA Girls Golf. LaBauve remains active in the program, serving with Lincicome as a national ambassador. (Earlier this year, Graham was inducted into the LPGA Teaching and Club Professionals’ Hall of Fame, for her contributions to Girls Golf and other grow-the-game efforts, which also include the founding of the LPGA Urban Youth Golf Program and the Executive Women’s Golf Association.)
Meanwhile, the USGA Women’s Committee knew that girls’ golf was lagging. While the USGA’s 1989 U.S. Junior Amateur attracted 2,025 entrants, only 189 girls entered its female equivalent, the U.S. Girls’ Junior.
The Women’s Committee, realizing that the future of the game for women was having them learn to play as youngsters, took the lead in getting USGA funding for the LPGA’s fledgling girls’ golf program. At a March 1997 media conference in Phoenix, then-LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw, USGA President Judy Bell, an executive from Girl Scouts USA and Nancy Lopez, who wore her old Girl Scout sash covered with merit badges, announced the initiative.
Soon it was expanded to include all girls and was renamed LPGA-USGA Girls Golf.
“We wanted everybody,” said Bell. “We gave the program more structure and financial support from the USGA by establishing a matching grants program which is going strong today.”
LPGA-USGA Girls Golf sites are coordinated by site directors, who range from LPGA or PGA professionals to Girl Scout leaders and Hook A Kid on Golf directors, to members of the USGA, Executive Women’s Golf Association and local golf associations, to parents. The programs cover the costs for course access, instruction, fees, snacks, and special events through fund raising, dues and event fees, as well as donations. (To find a program near you or to become involved, click here.)
Girls Golf offers a five-level progressive learning system on the course, starting from the green and moving back to the tee. Participants are divided into five levels, with golf instruction and rules geared to the girls’ skill level.
Lincicome, who was home-schooled before turning professional at age 19, believes LPGA-USGA Girls Golf was special because she made new friends. Learning about the game, however, was primary.
“I learned so much … the fundamentals of golf, and I became more mature through my experience,” said Lincicome.
LPGA-USGA Girls Golf is not just for aspiring professionals, though each year sees more and more alumnae competing – and winning – at the highest levels. In addition to Lincicome’s major triumph earlier this year, Girls Golf alum Amanda Blumenherst captured the 2008 U.S. Women’s AmateurChampionship. At the heart of the program, however, are the girls who may compete at the local or club level, then incorporate golf into the recreation they enjoy as adults.
In the eyes of Bell, who has championed the program since its inception 20 years ago, there is still much to be done.
“We have done well, but I would like to see much more participation,” said Bell. “The USGA Women’s Committee has stepped to the plate every time in support and still needs to do more. We need to put ‘the paddles’ to it; more enthusiasm, more sites, more girls, more volunteers, more teachers.”
LPGA-USGA Girls Golf has shown steady growth in the number of sites and participants – the Phoenix club alone has swelled to some 300 girls. Perhaps another indicator of success is in the marked rise of the number of girls under the age of 17 entering the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship since 1989. This year, a record 999 girls entered the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior that was conducted July 20-25 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.
LaBauve is gratified by the success of the program. “Girls Golf would not have made it 20 years without the support of the USGA, LPGA and so many others along the way who want to help girls, ages 7 to 17, learn about and fall in love with the game,” she said.“When you stop to think that this program has grown to include girls nationwide and they have grown to either bring golf into their personal or business lives, or made a full-time career out of it, that’s what’s incredible. It’s a dream fulfilled for those of us who started it.”
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. E-mail her with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program, please visit http://www.girlsgolfonline.org.