Steady growth of the Drive, Chip & Putt competition in Wisconsin has led to significant growth — and a significant honor — on the 2018 schedule for the free junior golf skills competition.
The road to Augusta National GC and the 2019 Drive, Chip & Putt finals will wind through Whistling Straits in Haven this fall. The three-time PGA Championship venue and site of the 2020 Ryder Cup will host the regional finals of this year’s competition for the first time.
Erika Pirkl, director of player development for the Wisconsin PGA, said a conflict at Hazeltine National GC in Chaska, Minnesota, created the opportunity that led to the regional being assigned to Whistling Straits. Drive, Chip & Putt, a partnership of The Masters, the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America, requires regional competition to be held at sites that have previously played host to either a U.S. Open or a PGA Championship.
“Just the fact that it’s coming to Wisconsin for the first time ever is kind of a big deal in itself,” Pirkl said. “Kids will be coming from Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. It will be pretty special to have it up there. Obviously, it’s the last stop before kids go onto Augusta so it will be very exciting.”
Another exciting development, for Pirkl, is expansion of the Wisconsin local qualifier schedule to include seven events. Eau Claire G&CC will host the first local qualifier in northwest Wisconsin.
In addition, Wisconsin will host two subregionals -- at University Ridge GC in Madison and at SentryWorld GC in Stevens Point -- instead of just the one it had in the past. Pirkl says the growth in the schedule reflects the popularity of the competition in Wisconsin where more than 1,100 boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 15 participated at the local level in 2017.
“That is the reason why we made the jump from the six local qualifiers in Wisconsin to seven and (the) two subregionals instead of one,” Pirkl said. “That is all attributed to the growth that we had last year. … We wanted to bring it into the Eau Claire area. We’re excited by all of that.”
Local qualifiers at Door Creek GC in Cottage Grove (June 25), Edgewood GC in Big Bend (July 17), the Legend at Merrill Hills GC in Waukesha (July 24), the Legend at Bergamont GC in Oregon (July 26) and one in Minnesota (Rochester) will feed into the subregional at University Ridge (Aug. 4), Meanwhile, local qualifiers at Rolling Meadows GC in Fond du Lac (July 10), Thornberry Creek at Oneida GC near Green Bay (July 30) and Eau Claire G&CC (Aug. 2) will join local qualifiers from two sites in Minnesota (Lake Elmo and Carleton) at the subregional at SentryWorld (Aug. 10). The regional competition will be held Sept. 8 at Whistling Straits.
“Our (PGA) professionals are doing a great job of promoting it,” Pirkl said. “With Drive, Chip & Putt, the credo is it’s for every kid everywhere. We get kids where this is maybe the first time they’ve ever picked up a golf club in a competition setting. And then you get the kids who have already decided this is their sport they’re going to focus on. The wide variety makes it easily accessible and fun for kids. And I know our PGA professionals are … even offering clinics to help kids get through this process. They set up (stations) at their facilities and walk the kids through (it). I know of multiple facilities that did last year and had a lot of success with that.”
Two Wisconsin golfers -- Aiden Antony of Milwaukee and Alissa Helminen of Menasha -- have qualified for the 2018 National Drive, Chip & Putt Championship at Augusta National GC the week before the Masters Tournament. They will compete in their respective age 7-9 division.
Registration for the 2018 Drive, Chip & Putt will begin Jan. 24. For more information, click here.