GRANITEVILLE — Carson Young might have finished on top of the leaderboard in the 2013 Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club, but The First Tee of Aiken and its sister program in Augusta turned out to be the big winners.
On Monday, two months after the tournament’s final round, representatives from both area chapters of The First Tee received checks in the amount of $200,000 apiece as part of the contribution of money raised from this year’s tournament and the support of presenting sponsor Electrolux.
“I’m speechless,” said Elizabeth Smith, the executive director of The First Tee of Aiken. “This has a huge impact. The support of the tournament helps us reach 12,000 kids in Aiken.”
The Junior Invitational was created with the idea of benefiting The First Tee and helping to support it’s mission. That’s to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf. It aims to be the vehicle through which kids can accomplish their dreams, thrive socially, excel academically and athletically, and become productive members of society with integrity, strong family values and commitment to community.
“What they’ve learned at The First Tee will carry over to home and school and off the golf course,” said Smith, who added that the values instilled through The First Tee affect more than just the young participants – many of who were on hand Monday. “It has changed the lives of families.”
While Smith said that more than 12,000 kids have already been involved with The First Tee of Aiken, she said the program is always looking to grow and won’t stop until it can reach every young person in Aiken County. That’s what makes an event like the Junior Invitational so important, because it raises so much money that it provides a major boost to the program’s budget.
“It’s a great day for us to receive funds from the event,” said Jill Brown, the executive director of The First Tee of Augusta. “Our greatest job is to help make better young people through the game of golf.”
It was like Thanksgiving in June, as everyone involved in Monday’s awards presentation ceremony offered their praise. It ranged from thanking tournament organizers, operators and all the people at Sage Valley to sponsors, volunteers as well as all the people behind the scenes.
“Thank you so much for sharing our passion for The First Tee,” said Tom Wyatt, president of Sage Valley and its co-owner along with his father Weldon Wyatt. “What an amazing tournament this has turned out to be. … We want to give as much as we can to Aiken and Augusta. Hopefully, we’ll keep growing it.”
It will be hard to raise the stature of the Junior Invitational. It has featured the top junior players in the world in each of its three years. Tom Wyatt pointed out that the recent U.S. Open featured a number of players who have participated in the Junior Invitational.
The tournament strives to have a field composed of the top 50 ranked juniors in the world, and has had numerous international representatives as well as top players from across the U.S. The elite fields, challenging course at picturesque Sage Valley and strong internal structure has added to the Junior Invitational’s excellent reputation.
“This is the third straight year it was voted the best junior tournament by Golfweek,” said Russ Kruger, one of the committee members for the Junior Invitational who was able to trumpet the success of the tournament, on and off the course. “While the tournament is exciting, the opportunity to give back is on the same level.”
Because of that outlook, the Junior Invitational has done so well it’s first three years. It’s also the reason why it’s expected to be just as strong moving forward.
At the completion of this year’s tournament, Electrolux announced it’s continuing support for the Junior Invitational. Mark Chambers, Electrolux’s senior vice president of sales, signed a contract along with Weldon Wyatt to extend their relationship for at least three more years, through 2016. On Monday, Chambers reiterated Electrolux’s support because of the ability to give back to the community.
“This is about who Electrolux is,” said Chambers. “We want to make a difference in somebody’s life. We want to make memories and introduce kids to success.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.
Staff photo by Noah Feit Elizabeth Smith of The First Tee of Aiken receives a check for $200,000 from money generated by this year's Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club and title sponsor Electrolux. Pictured with Smith, from left, is Sage Valley owner Weldon Wyatt, president of Sage Valley Tom Wyatt, Electrolux senior vice president of sales Mark Chambers and members of The First Tee program.×