Michigan Hosts National Junior Classic Finals at U-M
Just how big is the Independent Insurance Agent Junior Classic? Well, for starters it means 10,000 junior golfers (boys and girls ages 13-18) across the U.S. compete in more than 400 state and local qualifying sites to earn a coveted spot in the National finals--which is coming to Michigan on Aug. 9-14 at the University of Michigan GC in Ann Arbor. The IIAJC (a most appreciated acronym) is the largest junior stroke-play event in the country if not the world. That's big stuff for sure. But what's bigger is that Tiger Woods has won this prestigious event twice ('90 & '92) and played in it four times, including 1991 when the tournament was last played here in the state. As an amateur historian of what's constitutes a "major," Tiger always knew that IIAJC was an important and well-run junior event. In an interview several years ago, this is what Woods said about it: "I appreciate the way this tournament treats all of the players; they (IIAJC personnel) make you feel at home."
Making sure the 2001 junior golfers feel right at home in Ann Arbor will be IIAJC State Committee Chairman Matt Derrenberger. Working with National Chairman Ted Elink-Schuurman, Derrenberger has the responsibility for recruiting daily volunteers (at least a 100) as well as garnering financial support from various companies and organizations. "The Michigan Association of Insurance Agents are delighted that Michigan has been selected as the site of the National," says Derrenberger, a resident of the host city. "We look forward to hosting one of golf's most prestigious events and to showcase both the U-M course and the state of Michigan." To its credit, Michigan again led the nation in the number of local junior qualifiers--more than 1,000 juniors at 20 local qualifying sites.
Certainly, the venue for the Finals is a high caliber and esteemed test of golf. Designed by legendary course architects Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell, the University Course at U-M is one of the treasures of a course-rich state. First opened in 1931, the U-M course underwent a $3.3 million restoration several years ago that re-staked its claim as one of the best courses in Michigan. Trees were removed, bunkers re-shaped to original designs, and many clubhouse improvements were made. Today, the U-M course is a restored and polished gem, befitting the genius of MacKenzie and Maxwell. As such, in addition to watching stellar junior golf, spectators will have a chance to visit one of the top "historic design" courses in the country. "The University of Michigan golf course is one of the finest courses in the upper Midwest, noted for its beauty and scenic hills," said Derrenberger. "The course's historic contours and challenging greens will make it a unique experience for IIAJC finalists." Derrenberger says U-M will be set up for the boys as a par-71 at 6691 yards while the girls will face a par-71, 6015 yard test.
The list of past winners, besides Tiger, is indeed notable. Billy Andrade, Bob Tway, Justin Leonard, and David Gossett--all PGA Tour players--have won the tournament, as has LPGA player Christie Kerr (15th on money list last year) who won twice in the girl's division. Much like in case of the best amateur events (such as the Western Amateur at Point O'Woods) spectators have the opportunity to see "tomorrow's Tour stars." To this day, I still remember the first time I saw a gangly teenager named Phil Mickelson when he played at Flint Elks GC in a national junior event. Right then, I knew he'd be a Tour player. At this year's Finals, a host of top-notch juniors will be entered. At press time, such nationally ranked juniors as Randy Lowry and Jay Choi are set to compete as will the girl's defending champion, 15-year-old Whitney Wade. Last year's boys champion, Martin Catalioto, has exceeded the age limit and cannot defend his title.
Preceded by two days of practice rounds, the tournament officially gets under way on Saturday, Aug. 11 and ends on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The Hartford Long Drive contest will take place on Monday, Aug. 13 following competition at approximately 3 p.m. For sure, spend some time in Grand Blanc at the Buick Open to watch some of the best players in the game. But also take a long or short drive to Ann Arbor to scout the next Tiger Woods.
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