Thanks to a regional director, the tour features some of the best courses in Sarasota and elsewhere.
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 announced each one and wished them luck.
In March, Bryan Veith, the Sarasota/Bradenton/Tampa regional director for The Junior Tour by Under Armour, was unsure how the golf tour would work, if it could proceed at all, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The tour was originally scheduled to begin 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.
Young Sarasota golfers have taken advantage of the tour being played. Josiah Joseph and Tej Atluru, both 9, are first and third in the 6-9 division standings after five matches, respectively. Atluru said playing golf is a dose of normalcy after a wild few months.
"It's hard, trying to get out of the house," Atluru said. "You don't want to catch that nasty sickness. But you can do it here. You can play golf and it is fun. I have made new friends on this tour, which is my favorite part."
Atluru said he does not think about getting sick while on the course, as he's too focused on the game. Both Atluru and Joseph said the new golf regulations have not affected their own games much, other than a ball occasionally skipping over a hole because of the flag remaining in the cup.
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, including a match at Sarasota's TPC Prestancia on May 30.
Joseph said his favorite part of each tournament was the chance to win, to take home a medal he can display in his room. He shot a three under par 33 over nine holes at Palm Aire, something that has him feeling good. The rest of the field, too, walked away with glee.
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."