One of the biggest debates that is never solved in the greater Jacksonville area is that of what the second most popular sport behind football is. Arguments can be made for several options, including baseball, soccer, basketball and others. I’m here to argue that golf is doing its best to make a case.
When golf on the First Coast is brought up, the first thing in everyone’s mind is usually The Players, perhaps followed up by the person’s club or public course of choice. Hosting a “major” PGA Tour tournament that attracts the best players in the world and close to 100 public and private courses in the area to play is a great start to not only firmly entrenching the sport in the local subconscious, but making the area an attractive destination for national fans of the sport. A little known local organization has had a huge part in making Jacksonville the premier golf destination of the southeast for decades, and is developing the best local tournament into a must do now as well.
JAGA was founded at San Jose Country Club as the Jacksonville Amateur Golf Association in 1954 to organize and promote amateur golf in the area. After expanding membership and focus to include the Jacksonville Women’s Golf Association and sponsoring multiple tournaments, the new name Jacksonville Area Golf Association was adopted in 1966.
The organization now sponsors 11 events a year, but the crown jewel continues to be the Amateur Championship. This event has always been a big part of the golf fabric of Jacksonville, but it is attempting to grow its presence locally by expanding its reach nationally. The tournament is held at private courses, Queen’s Harbor Yacht & Country Club is the locale this year, but that does not mean spectators are not encouraged. In fact, you can rent a cart and follow along (and yes, all golf course amenities are available to make the day more enjoyable). There will also be internet live scoring for the first time, so the ease of following along will be at an all-time high. But perhaps the biggest change this year is that it will now be a points earning event for the World Amateur Golf Rankings, a big enough deal that players from outside the region have expressed interest in signing up to participate.
JAGA currently allows for 10 entries from outside the area, and there are currently two players from Tallahassee and one from Cocoa that have signed up. The Association Directors have given “serious thought” to opening up to anyone and marketing it as a national event in the future due to the appeal of WAGR points on the line.
Right now, JAGA just wants to draw more interest locally, and by doing things such as the live scoring and the $1 million worth of renovations to the clubhouse and grounds at Queen’s Harbor set to be completed by the time the best amateur golfers in the region tee it off July 28, they are clearly investing in the short term. JAGA has also reached out to the Web.com Tour about collaboration and promotion of events, both now and in the future. They understand that the more golf entities work together, the more they can all grow.
JAGA has achieved the goals that they sought when founding the organization over 50 years ago. Amateurs and junior golfers have been supported with opportunities on and off the course, thanks to the scholarship trust, which has helped over 200 students since its implementation in 1973. Now the challenge is to “broaden horizons”, a phrase used at the recent media day at Queen’s Harbor to promote the upcoming Amateur Championship. The next logical step would be to open up the tournament to national entries as soon as possible and make the annual tournament the premier WAGR points event of the Southeast.
Many First Coast residents already think of golf as an integral fabric of our community. Bringing more attention and eyeballs nationally to an event not held at Sawgrass might make those from outside the region think about Jacksonville as the home of the Jaguars and the beautiful game.
The Jacksonville Men’s Amateur Championship is July 28-30 at Queen’s Harbor Yacht & Country Club. Learn more about the event and JAGA at jaxareagolf.org.