Junior golf continues to thrive in Brevard County.
And it’s only going to get better.
The U.S. Kids Golf Space Coast Local Tour is halfway through its inaugural six-event season with an average of more than 60 players coming from all over the area to take part.
"We’ve had a lot of really good players," said Justin Blazer, Duran Golf Club’s Director of Instruction.
"We even had some of the state’s top players come for this last one. They used our local tour as a chance to get out and play and compete and post a score to get ready for their big events when the Florida Junior Tour and events like that start happening.
"It’s nice to have a competitive golf outlet in our area for these kids."
While the first three events have drawn players from Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa – and even a few from Columbia and Canada before the coronavirus pandemic hit – the bulk of the players have come from the Brevard County area.
The last event took place on May 17, at Duran. There were 68 players competing in 12 different age groups.
Among the winners were 10-year-old Arnold Pouncy, a Duran Academy student from St. Cloud, who shot 37 over nine holes.
Dylan Kotes of Orlando shot 69 to win the Boys 11 title. Viera’s Jeremiah Smith, another Duran Academy student, had a 77 to win the Boys 12 category.
Asher Joseph, a Duran Academy Student from Melbourne, came in with a 72 to take the boys 13-14 division.
On the girls side, Leila-Alexi Pouncy, a Duran Academy student from St. Cloud, shot 36 over nine holes to win the 7 & under title. And Hannah Hall, a Duran Academy student from Rockledge, shot a 76 that not only won the 12-14 division, it also punched her ticket to the world championships.
As expected, the event did have protocols in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Among them were that only parents could serve as caddies. There was no touching of the flag sticks. Pool noodles were cut and put into the cups so that players did not have to reach in far to pick up their golf balls. And since there were no rakes on the course, if a ball went into a bunker, players used the lift and place rule, smoothing out the area in the bunker with their foot.
"The only (other) things we’re doing from an operational standpoint is monitoring social distancing on the golf course and making sure people from different households aren’t riding in the same golf carts," Blazer said.
Because the coronavirus forced the schedule to be shuffled around, there are three events left on the schedule for this season.
The next one is set for May 31, at Turtle Creek. That will be followed by a June 6 tournament at Rockledge County Club. The final event will be held on June 14 at Viera East.
Participation does have its perks. The top five finishers in each age group receive Priority Status which can bring invitations to play in state and regional tournaments, international championships and, the big one — the world championship, held each year at Pinehurst.
Another season is planned for the fall, and Blazer would like to see more support from other members of Brevard County’s golf community.
"We want to change the landscape of junior golf in Brevard County," he said. "I do. It’s been my mission since I got there. We keep hearing terms like, ‘Kids are the future of golf.’ But I don’t really use that term anymore.
"I use the term, ‘The kids are now.’ They’re paying customers, just like everybody else. And a lot of these kids, especially the competitive ones, they’re better players than probably 80 percent of the adults that play at a golf course.
"We have kids out there shooting 68s and 69s and 70s. We have little seven-eight-nine-year-old kids shooting 2 or 3-under par for nine holes. I don’t understand why they can’t be given the same respect and treated the same as customers when they could probably beat just about any adult that walks on your golf course on any given day.
"We’re just trying to break down that barrier down and let people know junior golf is here to stay. It’s probably one of the fastest growing segments in the golf industry. As golf courses, and as a community, we’ve got to continue to provide things like local tours and junior programs so that these kids feel welcome."