Augusta the ultimate destination for Drive, Chip and Putt competitors
Mark HerrmannMark Herrmann
Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988,
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In golf terms, it really is not all that far from Bethpage and Eisenhower Park, classic public venues, to Augusta National, the quintessential private club. Getting from here to there is possible in the new Drive, Chip and Putt youth skills competition.
Actually, that route is the essence of the contest, which is designed to get young people interested in golf. There will be local competitions all over the country, then regional qualifiers and then the finals at Augusta. The latter will be open to the public, televised on Golf Channel and held next April 6 -- the Sunday before the 2014 Masters.
The final phase will be the putting event and that will be held on Augusta National's 18th green, one of the most iconic places in sports. Considering that many lifelong golf fans consider it a once-in-a-lifetime thrill just to set foot on the Augusta National grounds -- there is a lottery to buy tickets -- the opportunity for boy and girl golfers to compete there is a huge carrot, and a coup.
"I think that anything that helps to grow the game is great," said Joe Rehor, director of golf at Bethpage State Park. "Then add to that, Augusta stepping to the forefront, with winners getting a chance to get on those hallowed grounds, that is a step in the right direction."
It is a cooperative effort involving the Masters, the PGA of America and the U.S. Golf Association, the organizations that hold the three major championships in America each year and who share a concern that the golf population is skewing older.
Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National and the Masters, said in announcing the contest on Monday: "We all share the belief that if we can make golf fun, kids will come -- and particularly because they can dream about coming to this very special and historic location."
The two Long Island locations for the first round have their own history. Both Eisenhower and Bethpage have hosted major championships -- the former has held the PGA, back when the layout was known as Salisbury Park, the latter has been the site of two U.S. Opens. But both are known primarily for thousands of rounds that the public plays on them. So each is a natural home for the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt contest.
Registration is open now at drivechipandputt.com and the deadline is April 30. Everyone aged 7 through 15 is eligible, with competition to be held in eight age categories, four each for boys and girls. Payne was asked what the prize will be and he said, "An experience of a lifetime."
He acknowledged that organizers studied the factors that made the NFL's Punt, Pass and Kick contest so popular. Whether Drive, Chip and Putt will make as big an imprint, or if it will make golf more attractive to the youngest generation remain to be seen. The consensus around the Masters and the country this week is that is sure can't hurt.
"I think that's amazing for kids at that age to be a part of something like that, and maybe get the dream to come here and see this place," said Bubba Watson, the defending Masters champion.
In the Bethpage clubhouse, Rehor added, "I wish I was a 14-year-old golfer all over again."