A representative from the American Junior Golf Association called Staunton Oppenheimer in December and asked if his Long Cove Club might be interested in playing host to a tournament. Another course had backed out and the timetable for selecting a venue, normally about 18 months, had shrunk to six.
Oppenheimer, a club member involved with the AJGA for seven years, brought the idea to the club's board. The nine-member panel voted unanimously to host the Rolex Girls Junior Championship, which starts today on the Pete Dye design and is an invite-only tournament featuring some of the top junior girls from around the world. The three-round event concludes Thursday.
"That was a good start," said Oppenheimer, who is serving as tournament co-chairman, of the board vote. "You always have someone who has questions, because it's a big commitment."
More than 100 volunteers will help run the tournament. The field of 78 players includes Victoria Tanco, the top-ranked player in the AJGA's Polo Golf Rankings. Tanco is a two-time Rolex Junior Player of the Year and won this event in 2008. She has qualified three consecutive years for the U.S. Women's Open.
Tanco will attempt to make her first U.S. Open cut in July at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. Before she begins preparation for Oakmont's slick greens and thick rough, Tanco will try to further secure her bid for another player of the year award. With the invitational format comes more points for beating a better field. Nine of the tournament's 18 winners have secured player of the year honors. And Tanco already has one victory this season, in February at the ANNIKA Invitational.
"To win this tournament is something really nice," said Tanco, who splits her time between high school in her native Argentina and training at the IMG Academy in Florida. "It's big."
Tanco will have competition. Six of the AJGA's top 10 players are in the field.
Two locals will also be competing -- Bluffton's Samantha Buchanan and Ri Hyang Park.
Players had the opportunity to play a practice round Monday afternoon. They also got to experience the heat they might face this week, with the index soaring above 100 degrees.
Oppenheimer said the weather could be a factor. He rested in a golf cart early Monday afternoon after playing in a Junior-Am event Monday morning. The "amateurs," most Long Cove members or sponsors, paid $300 each to play in a group with one of the Rolex competitors. The event raised $32,000, said Oppenheimer, who also serves as the tournament's volunteer fundraising coordinator.
Money raised goes toward the AJGA's ACE Grant program, which provides financial aid for players who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford playing the tournaments.
Oppenheimer estimated the AJGA would grant more than $450,000 to boys and girls golfers this year.
"I played junior golf myself, started when I was 9," he said. "Kids today are so much phenomenally better (at golf) than anything in my era. They're polite, respectful. They honor the game. They're just great to be around."
What: The Rolex Girls Junior Championship, an American Junior Golf Association tournament
Where: Long Cove Club
Cost: Admission is free. Spectators are welcome.