Last summer, 17-year-old amateur Beau Hossler took the golf world by storm with his performance in the U.S. Open. Hossler held the lead at the tournament for a brief period of time and was in contention headed to the final round. Some around the CSRA got a chance to see Hossler in action a few months prior to that in the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club. Hossler – having graduated early and enrolled in college already – won’t be taking to the course in Graniteville this year. However, tournament officials say he is an example of what they strive to bring golf fans in the area when the tournament kicks of Friday.
“What fans can look forward to are those kind of kids, exciting kids with great ability,” tournament coordinator Elaine Barnhill said. “Especially for fans of golf, it’s a great atmosphere to watch theses kids know who they can potentially be watching in a few years and say, ‘wow, I saw him play back in the day.”
The tournament has made quite a name for itself in its infancy and is widely recognized as one of the top junior golf tournaments in the world. Some of that reputation comes from the talented entrants who show up for the event. Those in charge of the tournament are expecting the competition to be unlike anything seen in the first two years.
“We’re really proud of the field,” Barnhill said. “We say every year that it’s our best field yet and we believe it again this year.
This year’s field of 54 contestants features the number one junior golfer in the country, Robbie Shelton, as well as several of the top 100 junior golfers in the nation. Augusta native and Georgia commit Greyson Sigg will also be featured in the field. This is Sigg’s second year competing in the tournament.
Three South Carolina golfers are in the field, including 2012 South Carolina Junior champion Jeremy Grab, who will be making his first appearance in the tournament. Clemson commits Austin Langdale and Carson Young round out the S.C. participants. Young earned the 2012 Jay Hass Player of the year Award, given to the top male player for the South Carolina Junior Golf Association.
Adding to the depth of the competition are the entrants from the around the world. This year, 18 international players made the trip, many who are in the top 100 in the world.
Barnhill noted that the tournament is not only about the competition. She pointed out it is a great opportunity to see what the game of golf is doing for the youth. That portion of the invitational’s goal is highlighted by its fundraising effort for the Aiken and Augusta chapters of the First Tee.
The tournament is a fundraiser for the First Tee. Neither the tournament or Sage Valley Golf Club make money off the event.
“All of the proceeds raised through sponsorships go immediately to our bottom line and then whatever is left at the end, our goal is to be able to give back to the First Tee of Aiken,” Barnhill said.
The event has raised a total of $200,000 in the first two years of its existence. Barnhill and officials don’t want to stop there; however, the tournament has some lofty fundraising goals for this year, as well.
“This year we would love to be able to give at least $100,000 to each of the local chapters,” she said. “Right now, we are hoping to exceed that. You never know what the final numbers will look like, but the more we raise the better for the program.
The tournament and the First Tee share a common thread making the partnership work so well.
“The tournament and the First Tee are about the youth getting involved in golf,” Barnhill said. “The First Tee’s point is to teach kids how to better themselves through golf and not just on the course, everywhere. The kids love it.”
Eric Russell covers sports for the Aiken Standard. He graduated from USC Aiken in 2012 with a degree in Communications.