Published by David Droschak

PINEHURST, North Carolina — Golf’s majors are over for 2023, or are they? Technically, the sport’s biggest stages for professionals ended over the weekend with the conclusion of the historic British Open.

But there will be some pretty heady golf being played in Pinehurst, North Carolina, over the next two weeks with more than 2,200 junior players ages 5-18 competing in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championships.

The U.S. Kids World Teen Championship for ages 13-18 will be held July 27-29, while the U.S. Kids World Championship for ages 5-12 is slated for Aug. 3-5.

PGA Tour stars such as Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa have competed on the U.S. Kids world stage over the years. In fact, over one-third of the players in this year’s U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open have come through Pinehurst over the last 17 years.

Few places in the country have the golfing bandwidth to execute such a massive event like the Pinehurst area, with the tournament tapping into 14 area courses that are all within a 30-minute car ride from the resort steps. And there are some generous donations that show the area’s true support for the game’s future.

For example, more than 500 volunteers will work the event, while the Country Club of North Carolina — one of the state’s more prestigious and exclusive private clubs — donated 20,000 bottles of water to keep the golfers hydrated as temperatures soar into the high 90s across the Sandhills. And the Convention & Visitors Bureau – Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Area has been a staunch supporter of the world championships for close to two decades.

“It is such a pleasure to see our town light up with this amazing young talent in the golf world,” CCNC general manager Don Hunter says. “It is the healthiest thing for the future of the sport.”

Over one-third of the players in this year’s U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open have played in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championships.
(Photo: U.S. Kids Golf)

Some of the golfers may get an opportunity to play Pinehurst No. 2, which will host the 2024 U.S. Open. One such player is Ike Rothman, of New York, a 15-year-old who will compete in the World Teen Championship this week with the hopes of advancing the final day to the top of his age bracket in order to play the famed layout.

Rothman got into last year’s World Teen Championship at the 11th hour after shooting a 70 in a local tournament two weeks before the big stage was set in Pinehurst. He finished in the middle of the pack, good enough to earn another invitation to compete against the world’s best junior golfers.

“It’s very interesting playing against people from all over the country and all over the world,” Rothman says. “It’s not something you get to experience on the normal basis at home. It’s a completely different feeling than a normal tournament.”

“When you go to Pinehurst all these kids are experienced and it feels more like a Tour event,” father Evan Rothman says. “Ike was the last player in the field last year and as soon as the invitation came in this year we signed up in like 10 seconds to make sure we were on the list.”

Much like travel baseball or soccer, there is a major financial and time investment from not only the junior golfers but family members.

Those attending average over four people traveling per family and they will spend an average of $8,000-$8,500 on travel expenses for the World Championships. The anticipated economic impact to the Pinehurst area is over $14 million for 2023. The expenses range from entry fees to food to lodging to hiring a caddy to help navigate unfamiliar course and hopefully gain an advantage on the field. And of course shopping in the Pinehurst Resort pro shop.

The U.S. Kids Golf World Championships are broken into two weeks of competition — the 13-18-year-olds playing July 27-29, while ages 5-12 will compete Aug. 3-5. 
(Photo: U.S. Kids Golf)

While most participants are from the United States, Mexico, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa, there are also competitors from countries such as El Salvador, Armenia, Uruguay, Estonia, Slovakia, Barbados, China, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Nicaragua, according to Peter Stilwell, whose company, Tarheel Communications, has organized the outside-the-ropes operations of the event in Pinehurst for the last 18 years.

“When it was played at Williamsburg, Virginia, there were five golf courses and now we play on 14, so it’s an amazing event,” Stilwell says. “I mean it’s a lot of work to put together, but when you see all these kids come here they’re like miniature PGA Tour and LPGA players. They have mannerisms like professional players; they have keen golf etiquette and they’re really focused on winning and focused on playing the game. And U.S. Kids Golf works hard to make sure to try to strike a balance of having fun combined with serious competition, and making sure kids get an opportunity to get into the game.”

The first world championship in 2002 in Virginia drew just 220 players from five countries. Now, the parent organization U.S. Kids Golf operates 2,000 tournaments and championships across the United States and the world, with over 30,000 young golfers participating.

Just in the Pinehurst area over the next two weeks, a combined 48,000 miles will be walked by competitors — equivalent to twice around the world — and 160,000 holes will be played.

“The participant numbers and their level of competition are greater every year for our tournaments,” says Chris Vonderkall, vice president of tournaments for U.S. Kids Golf Foundation, noting this year’s 18 percent increase in worldwide participation. “We are seeing players from over 55 different countries competing in our events, which is a testament to our global impact. Internationally, our competitions inspire players and provide families with memorable golf experiences while teaching sportsmanship, discipline and goal setting.”