The USGA believes that junior golf is about more than creating the next generation of professional golfers; junior golf instills the life lessons of honesty, integrity, perseverance and respect in America’s youth. Since 1997, the USGA has allocated more than $65 million to more than 1,000 organizations who share the mission of empowering and bettering children through the game of golf. The following story provides a glimpse into the impact that junior golf can have on a community and on a child.
While growing up, Juliet Vongphoumy was often reminded of how lucky her family was to be in America. Her parents, immigrants from Laos who came to the U.S. in 1988, frequently reminded their four daughters to appreciate the opportunities available in this country.
The family settled in Providence, R.I., in close proximity to the Button Hole Golf Course, a short course and teaching center. Subsidized by USGA grants, this inner-city field was converted into a nationally recognized facility. With the opportunity to learn and play golf practically in their backyard, the Vongphoumys made the game a regular family affair.
“You’ll see them on most good weather days at Button Hole as a family, accompanied by their dog,” said David Hanna, who recently retired as Button Hole’s executive director.
Reflecting on her introduction to golf as an 8-year-old, Juliet said, “I had no idea what golf was about, but something about the game just clicked with me. It’s all fascinating. After I got to hit balls, and of course whiffing most of them, I just fell in love with the game. The determination to hit the ball kept me coming back to Button Hole.”
Juliet became a devoted participant at Button Hole’s junior golf programs. “Coming from a not so wealthy family, (Button Hole) allowed me to hit as many golf balls as I wanted to without paying so much money, and also allowed me to play such a great short course,” she said.
Many of the same programs that were launched when Button Hole opened in 2001 continue today. Youngsters 8 and older can take a series of lessons, then get the chance to play golf and use the practice range for $1.In the 2009-10 school year, more than 1,600 children from Providence public school participated in programs at the center.
Vongphoumy's progression has been remarkable. In 2008, her freshman year, she became the first girl to win the Rhode Island Interscholastic League co-ed individual golf title. With the dream of playing professionally, Juliet transferred to South Carolina’s Hilton Head Prep the following year.
“Juliet has a perfect mindset for golf. She putts like Brad Faxon and she can practice for hours on end and not get bored,” Hanna said.
“Golf has had a major impact on my life,” said Juliet. “I was a pretty shy person before I began to play.”
Through golf, she has learned how to carry herself with confidence and she plays with a calm demeanor, seemingly oblivious to distractions and pressure.
Golf continues to open new doors for Juliet. “It’s just amazing where golf has brought me,” she said. “I’ve met so many generous people who have helped me get to where I am now. I have choices of colleges right now – (I’m) having coaches look at me and I’m looking at places I never thought were a choice for me.”
Juliet has returned home from South Carolina, and her family continues to visit Button Hole. In December 2009, she won the U.S. Junior Masters, an international event. Last month, she finished fourth in the same event at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Juliet is making the most of her opportunities. “My parents always told me and my sisters we are so lucky to be in America,” she said. “They struggled to feed their family. I sometimes took that for granted, but I understand now.”
Alex Ray is a former Fellow with the USGA's Grants and Fellowship Program.