Following the slump in the nation’s economy and having observed the increased number of golf course closings, several important national golf organizations have developed plans to reverse the falloff in the number of active golfers and rounds played. The First Tee, LPGA, National Golf Course Owners Association, PGA Tour, and the PGA of America have all recently targeted youths as future golfers and have directed programs to involve youngsters in golf and thus “grow the game”.
Locally, there is one small and unheralded grassroots group that is aiming to involve youths in golf and help to grow the game, namely, the North Suburban Junior Travel League.
The NSJTL is a series of weekly Monday tournaments beginning in early June with teams representing six to eight different golf facilities located within a 25 mile radius in Chicago’s northern suburbs. The NSJTL’s goal is to provide a fun environment, a positive learning experience, and a wholesome atmosphere for junior golfers, while preparing them for competitive high school golf. The NSJTL is open to all junior golfers (male and female) under the age of 15 who have not yet entered high school.
The NSJTL recently finished its tenth season, with teams from Anetsberger Golf Club, Grayslake Golf Club, Golf Center Des Plaines, Nickol Knoll, Willowhill, and Weber Park competing. Rich Lee of the Skokie Park District’s Weber Park Golf Course is the league’s founder and current director. He stated, “Our league has been in existence for a full decade and we are indeed happy to have been around this long; we’re also pleased that our league has teams from municipal park districts and private facilities as well. We stress that we are open to all who qualify by age, and that interested junior golfers need not necessarily be residents of the park district team that they wish to join”.
The NSJTL uses a ‘fewest-team-member, average scoring system’, that is, team scores for each event count only the lowest scores on each team equal to that number from the team with the fewest participants. With such a system, teams with fewer players may have an equal chance against teams with more members; furthermore, every golfer on every team can compete each week (NSJTL rules limit the maximum team size to 15 members). The 2012 league champions were the juniors from Willowhill GC in Northbrook coached by PGA Professional Billy Knilans; the team from Grayslake GC finished second. Other recent team entries have been from Rob Roy Golf Club, Sportsman’s Country Club, and TopGolf Chicago.