Boys and girls golfers from East County participate in the tour.
When 70 boys and girls, ranging from 6 to 18 years old, teed off at Palm Aire Country Club on May 23, Bryan Veith was grinning as he greeted each one and wished them luck.
In March, Greenfield Plantation's Veith, a regional director for The Junior Tour by Under Armour, was unsure how the golf tour would work, if it could proceed at all due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tour was originally scheduled to kick off March 29 but was delayed.
Even though some golf courses remained open, hosting a large tour event became a risk. Veith said some courses that had agreed to host events pulled out. He was determined, though, to make it happen even if it had to be delayed a few months.
"I had to scramble a little bit," Veith said. "I knew as soon as things opened up a bit, kids were going to want to get out here and play. I had to talk to all the courses ahead of time and tell them how we were going to take all necessary precautions and be super safe about everything. We were fortunate to have some clubs stick with us and other ones step up to replace the ones that didn't."
The changes were significant. In addition to following all CDC guidelines, like mandating golfers to remain at least six feet apart, Veith's tour events mandated that golfers not exchange scorecards, instead keeping the score of everyone in their group. After the rounds, the golfers would confirm the scores with their competitors. Group photos are now not allowed and there are no high fives or handshakes.
Reminders of the rules are posted around the course. Violators receive a warning for a first offense and will be disqualified for a second offense.
The pitch was convincing. Veith secured seven events for the tour, which began May 2 at Heritage Harbour.
Lakewood Ranch High freshman Jessica Kobetitsch said the tour has helped take the craziness of the world off her mind.
"It has been so nice to get outside and play a round," Kobetitsch said. "I missed getting to talk to other kids in person. I have been staying inside for so long."
Kobetitsch said the new rules have not affected her game much, outside of one birdie putt at the Ritz-Carlton Bradenton tour event May 3, where her ball skipped over the hole because of the flag remaining in the cup. She also said she likes the coed nature of the tour. Playing against boys is not something she typically gets to do, she said, so this tour is a chance to prove her game can be on their level.
The event at Palm Aire was the tour's fourth event. The fifth occurred May 25 at Tampa's Hunters Green Country Club. Two more remain before champions are crowned.
Kobetitsch said she is focused on the tour and doesn't think about the pandemic while on the course. That comfort level is what Veith hoped to achieve, and is one reason why the response to the tour first four events has been roundly positive.
In other words, Veith's scrambling to make the tour happen was worth it.
"That first event, I can't tell you how happy the kids were, how many smiles I saw," Veith said. "It has gone better than I could have imagined."