GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Meredith Kirk, Executive Director of the Junior Golf Exchange, is an LPGA golf instructor living and teaching golf around Myrtle Beach, S.C. Winning the 2014 Mrs. South Carolina America Pageant helped raise awareness of Kirk's innovative, not-for-profit program. She also enlisted the support of various Carolinas PGA (CPGA) members to participate in the program and serve on her Board, including new Board President Paige Cribb, PGA and also CPGA Section Secretary, recently becoming the first female officer in section history.
Other CPGA members represent Blackmoor Golf Club (Paul Fastenau); Caledonia Golf & Fish Club (Marc Guertin, Eltoria Renwick, Bob Seganti); Indigo Creek Golf Club (Chapman Hutchinson, A.J. Sawyer); Monroe Country Club (Nick Jacobi); Patriots Point Links on Charleston Harbor (Brad Parker, Brandon Ray); The Traces Golf Club (E.B. Bell, Ryan Bell); and True Blue Golf Plantation (Bart Pomano, Bob Seganti).
What follows is a question-and-answer exchange with Meredith Kirk:
Who came up with the idea for a Junior Golf Exchange (JGE)?
I came up with the idea when I was the Myrtle Beach coordinator of the PGA Junior League. I noticed a lot of families wanted to get involved but they didn't have the junior golf equipment to get their children started in the sport.
How does the program work?
It operates through a golf course or a facility [such as the YMCA]. That means someone who donates the clubs and those who get them - so there's a middleman [a golf course or host facility]. The reason why there needs to be a middleman is because the children need to be club-fitted appropriately for their new set of junior clubs. As a Certified TaylorMade Club Fitter, I understand the importance of proper clubs for an individual. You do not just want to give any child just any set of clubs. They need to be custom fit for the closest possible fit for the child. Gender, height, and skill level are criteria for this process.
How is JGE important?
The decline of junior golf, I feel, isn't with the instructional programs - there are a lot of great ones out there - but it is in part due to people who are struggling to make the initial investment in equipment for their kids. I think it's the initial cost of getting started in golf that is hindering its development of junior golf.
That's what is keeping kids from golf.
I said at the time, 'I would love to start a program that would supplement all of the different programs out there that are awesome like LPGA Girls Golf, Play Golf America, PGA Junior League, Get Golf Ready, First Tee, among others.' The idea came about from issues I was seeing from these programs not be able to retain a high number of junior golfers.
So tell us how your vision grew from there.
Well, that's why I entered the Mrs. South Carolina America pageant. I thought if I could win it, it was the first one I had ever entered I would be able to gain attention for the Junior Golf Exchange and hopefully spread the word about this unique program that could possibly supplement the established teaching and competitive junior golf programs.
After I had won it [it was the first pageant she had ever entered!], I went ahead and formed the non-profit organization and got the ball rolling … literally. I even was fortunate enough to film an endorsement with the legendary PGA superstar, Larry Nelson.
We launched the program last December and it's been operating for a solid six months now. We've already had 50,000 people visit the website, which tells me it's a good idea and that the idea is resonating with families.
So in essence, when you put a golf club (or a facility such as a YMCA) in the middle of the process, it creates a new dynamic for golf.
Yes, it not only gets the club into the junior golfer's hands, but it helps grow the game of golf. This is also an incentive for a golf course to participate. The course receives advertising on JGE and will be able to retain more junior golfers at its facility. Some courses right now are offering discounted rates on range balls, memberships, course play, and lessons. This is a great opportunity for courses to reach the next generation of golfers.
Are there enough clubs to go around?
No, right now we need inventory. The minute clubs comes in, they are gone.
We need people to go into their garages and see if they have complete sets of kids clubs: criteria for donating are that the clubs are not older than five-years old, grips are in fair condition and that the set is a true junior golf set and it is complete and ready to use. Also, we have store on JGE website which people can go and order clubs online to donate to participating facilities. It is a great way to give to give the game of golf to a child. We are having a text-to-give campaign. Text the keyword GOLF to 41444 and make a donation of $11. Every little bit helps to grow the program. We are in need right now and the demand for clubs is high. Proceeds go to purchasing equipment.
What about sponsorships for JGE?
Right now we are also looking for national sponsorships. We'll need a company to help drive this initiative. We want our logo intertwined with their's. We need a company that understands the importance of this program and the need for it.
That's the goal. I believe it will come in time. It's just getting the word out there and having faith that others will recognize that this is a major issue in the development of junior golf right now.
Finally, how does the program work?
This is an exchange program. It not just giving away free sets of clubs. The junior golfers are encouraged to use the clubs for a year, then after a year, to turn them back in and get a new one. There is an inspection process involved also. In essence, a youngster can actually upgrade his or her equipment every year up to the age of 14.
I know from personal experience how this works. I have three sons, and every year they grow another 2-3 inches and get stronger. I've had my own junior golf exchange going on for years now, but there have been times that I still have to fill in the gaps and go out and buy new clubs.
The program is not just a giveaway. The goal is to get a somewhat fitted set of clubs into the hands of a junior golfer year after year up until his or her 14th birthday. As the golfers grow in height and skill level, it's important that they have the right equipment to fit their growing needs. Ultimately, the goal of the program is to take the burden off the parents and guardians to provide golf equipment. If the program is utilized by a child from the time he or she starts JGE up until they program cut off age at 14 ... any child could potentially have had 10-12 sets through the program saving thousands of dollars.
I think it is a pretty cool deal.
Learn more at www.juniorgolfexchange.org and www.mrssouthcarolinaamerica.com
About the Carolinas PGA Section
Since its inception in 1923, the Carolinas PGA Section has been committed to nurturing and improving the quality of the game for the thousands of golfers using its member facilities. Now the largest of the PGA's 41 sections, the Carolinas PGA Section of the Professional Golfers' Association boasts 2,000 professional members and represents more than 800 golf facilities within North and South Carolina as well as portions of southern Virginia. PGA Professionals are responsible for conducting a variety of golf-related functions which include human resource management, golf shop merchandising, golf instruction, tournament operations, junior golf programs, growth of the game initiatives, golf club repair, administering the rules, public relations, and much more. www.Carolinas.PGA.com
Martin Armes, 919-608-7260, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brad King, 336-306-9219, email@example.com