SERVING THE GAME
Rising Star: LPGA-USGA Girls Golf March 19, 2015 | PHOENIX, ARIZ. By Tom Mackin

LPGA-USGA Girls Golf teaches life lessons and brings participants in close contact with some of the game's biggest stars. (LPGA/Getty Images)

Those concerned about the state of golf may want to take special note of one national program that has seen its participation numbers swell.

Since 2010, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, which specializes in providing a “girl-friendly” environment for juniors to learn and play the game of golf, has grown from 5,000 participants ages 6-17 to an estimated 50,000 in 300 communities around the country this year. That growth over the past five years has been spurred by proceeds from the LPGA’s JTBC Founders Cup, which is being held this week at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa.

Founded in 1989 by Sandy LaBauve, assistant director of LaBauve Golf at the Westin Kierland Golf Club in Phoenix, the program is administered in partnership between the LPGA Foundation and the USGA.

Although centered around golf, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf also works on improving life skills specific to young girls, including self-esteem, leadership, confidence and perseverance.

A number of talented golfers, including U.S. Women’s Amateur champions Morgan Pressel (2005) and Amanda Blumenhurst (2008), have participated in the program.

“I played with the boys while growing up, so when Girls Golf came along, it was just great to kind of hang out with girls my own age and play golf with girls,” said Brittany Lincicome, one of the program’s LPGA Tour Ambassadors.”

“We really believe in this program,” said Beth Major, director of public services for the USGA. “The numbers speak for themselves, as does the impact the program is having. Every year, we look at the number of girls who have come out of the program and who play in USGA championships. That continues to increase. Not many of these girls are going to play professional golf, but there’s such an opportunity for them to learn how to play socially, whether it’s with friends, family or business contacts. To be able to feel comfortable on a golf course and play with peers is really important for young girls. It gives them such an advantage in college and post-college life.” 

The relationship with the USGA, which includes both financial and programming support, came about thanks to former USGA president Judy Bell.

“She was kind of our advocate with the USGA,” said Nancy Henderson, president of the LPGA Foundation. “She was the one who said the USGA needed to partner with us on this program. Since then, we couldn’t have asked for a better partnership. It not only adds credibility, but to have a presence at the U.S. Women’s Open means so much to us.”

At last year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2, that presence included a clinic attended by 400 LPGA-USGA Girls Golf participants. Similar clinics are scheduled for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, which will be contested July 9-12 at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club, and the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Aug. 10-16 at Portland (Ore.) Golf Club. The programming at USGA championships, as well as at LPGA Tour events such as the JTBC Founders Cup, gives participants a first-hand look at the stars of game.

“It’s incredible to see how far [LPGA-USGA Girls Golf has] come in a short amount of time,” said Lincicome. “Hopefully, we can keep growing that. It was super beneficial to me. I don’t know if I would be here without it.”

Tom Mackin is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Ariz.