The field is set for the third-annual Junior Invitational golf tournament at Sage Valley Golf Club, and organizers are calling it the strongest to date. That’s a bold statement considering the participants in each of the first two editions consisted almost exclusively of members of the top 50 juniors in the world rankings.

But the organizers’ claim is hard to dispute. The top 54 players in the world are committed to play in this year’s tournament, which will be contested at Sage Valley from April 26-28.

Nineteen players from 12 countries outside of the U.S. are represented this year as part of an outstanding international contingency. The field includes players from Argentina, Bolivia, China, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Norway, Poland and South Korea.

Players from 19 different states are also in the field of the 54-hole championship event. The top juniors look forward to the opportunity to play at the picturesque Graniteville golf course for several reasons. Chief among them is the hospitality the players are shown. Participants are provided with transportation and lodging, getting to stay in cottages at Sage Valley. Each player is also provided with an experienced Sage Valley caddie for all three rounds.

While the juniors have raved about the accommodations, they also flock to the Junior Invitational because of the uniqueness of the tournament. Unlike their counterparts in college or the professional ranks, there’s no event for the best juniors in the world to face off – other than the Junior Invitational.

“There’s no other tournament in the world like this. It’s the first of its kind,” tournament chairman Paul Simon said in the past. “Our goal is to put on the most prestigious junior golf tournament in the world.”

GolfWeek has named the Junior Invitational the No. 1 tournament in all of junior golf, primarily because of the strength of the field. In most junior tournaments there are only a handful of players who are considered to have a reasonable chance at winning. The balance of the field consists of up-and-comers and players unlikely to contend.

The Junior Invitational has consistently produced a group of contestants where virtually the entire field, if playing well that week, can win the event.

The 2013 tournament will only add to the legacy. It is also the first time in the history of the Junior Invitational that the defending champion will return. Last year’s champion, Zachary Olsen, will defend his crown against a field that also includes 12 other players who finished in the top twenty in 2012.

Top U.S. players Robby Shelton, Scott Scheffler, Cameron Champ, Brad Dalke and Doug Ghim will be coming to Sage Valley. Joining them will be top international players Tae Wan Lee, Dominic Foos, Emil Sogaard, Patrick Kelly and Matthew Fitzpatrick.

There will be some players from the area competing as well. Augusta’s Greyson Sigg and Townville’s Austin Langdale will both be back for a second try at the Gold Jacket and Gibbs Cup. But there’s another person with strong associations to Augusta that will be present at this year’s tournament. Six-time Masters Tournament champion Jack Nicklaus will be the guest speaker at the Opening Banquet on April 24.

“We are extremely thrilled to have him join us,” tournament chairman Tom Wyatt said in a release. “We have endeavored to invite guest speakers that add high value to the event and be an inspiration to the tournament field, The First Tee youngsters and our invited guests. Mr. Nicklaus certainly fits this criteria.”

Past Junior Invitational guest speakers have included President George W. Bush and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem. Tickets to the Opening Banquet are available only to sponsors, contestants and invited guests. Tickets to the three rounds of tournament play will be available at the gate.

Several area youngsters will have the opportunity to play Sage Valley prior to the start of the tournament. Seventy-two young people from The First Tee local and national chapters will participate in The First Tee Challenge on Wednesday and Thursday prior to the Junior Invitational.

Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.

2013 Junior Invitational Contestants

Zachary Bauchou U.S.–VA

Andrej Bevins U.S.–CA

Sam Burns U.S.–LA

Derek Castillo U.S.–CA

Cameron Champ U.S.–CA

Austin Connelly U.S.–TX

Brad Dalke U.S.–TX

Branson Davis U.S.–TX

Rigel Fernandes India

Matthew Fitzpatrick England

Dominic Foos Germany

Nicolo Galletti U.S.–AZ

Doug Ghim U.S.–IL

Matt Gilchrest U.S.–TX

Jeremy Grab U.S.–SC

Max Greyserman U.S.–NJ

Benjamin Griffin U.S.–NC

Danny Guise U.S.–CT

Rico Hoey U.S.–CA

Sam Horsfield Great Britain

Jacob Joiner U.S.–GA

Patrick Kelly England

Peter Kim U.S.–NJ

Romain Langasque France

Austin Langdale U.S.–SC

Tae Wan Lee S. Korea

Won Jun Lee S. Korea

Ki Taek Lee S. Korea

Thomas Lim U.S.–CA

Jaime Lopez Rivarola Argentina

Jack Maguire U.S.–FL

Alexander Matlari Germany

Maximilian Mehles Germany

Jose Montano Bolivia

Gordon Neale U.S.–CA

Zachary Olsen U.S.–TN

Max Orrin England

Corey Pereira U.S.–CA

Michael Pisciotta U.S.–GA

Davis Riley U.S.–MS

Scottie Scheffler U.S.–TX

Robby Shelton U.S.–AL

Greyson Sigg U.S.–GA

Emil Sogaard Denmark

Kyle Sterbinsky U.S.–PA

Jan Szmidt, Jr. Poland

Alejandro Tosti Argentina

Austen Truslow U.S.–FL

Kristoffer Ventura Norway

Aaron Wise U.S.–CA

Adam Wood U.S.–IN

Dylan Wu U.S.–OR

Carson Young U.S.–CA

Carl Yuan China