Young golfers in the Lakewood Ranch area will have an opportunity to participate in a national tour, without leaving the region, at least until the championship finals.
The Junior Tour Powered by Under Armour will hold its inaugural season this spring in Southwest Florida. The tour will be split into regions, with one region – the “N” region – comprising golfers in Manatee, Sarasota and Hillsborough counties.
Six nine-hole stroke play events will be contested, with two events each being held in East County, Sarasota and Tampa. The top-12 finishers in each region will advance to a championship event, held at Walt Disney World in Orlando on July 17-19. The championship event will crown both individual winners and regional team winners, giving area golfers incentive to root for their regional teammates.
Heritage Harbour Golf Club and Eatery’s Bryan Veith partnered with Ray Taranto and Holly Taranto, of Venice, to bring the tour to life. The Tarantos worked with Under Armour to create The Tour, the adult version of The Junior Tour, in 2016. Together, Veith and the Tarantos are creating the guidelines that other regional tours across the country will follow, and Veith will coach the Sarasota/Manatee/Hillsborough team at the championship event.
The tour will have three coed age divisions: 6-9, 10-13 and 14-18. The two younger divisions will allow for a family member or coach to act as a caddy, giving instructions to their golfers on the course. That is because Veith and the Tarantos want the tour to be as appealing to new golfers as it is experienced ones.
“This is about having fun,” Veith said. “Golf is such a nerve-wracking sport. You don’t want anyone to get frustrated. With a caddy, the kids have someone who will help them feel comfortable. If they have questions, there is someone to ask.”
Veith said the tour will fill a need in an area lacking in golf options for younger athletes. Currently, middle schools in Manatee County do not offer golf programs. Veith said this tour will be a chance for kids to learn what the game is all about: Competition, sportsmanship and growth. Veith said the 10-13 age group is the most important in terms of development. If they learn the fundamentals and get on the course early, it will help them immensely when they get to high school.
There is incentive for experienced golfers, too. The tour will count toward golfers’ Junior Golf Scoreboard rankings, which play a factor in college recruitment.
Ray Taranto said the coed nature of the divisions should not scare off potential competitors, and that in smaller tournaments he has directed in Charlotte county, the girls often beat the boys.
The first tour event will be held at Heritage Harbour on March 29 with a 1:45 p.m. start. Veith said the events will be held in the afternoons so kids can spend the mornings with their families.
The tour will have a $150 league entry fee, which goes toward an Under Armour golf shirt, an online player profile with a photo, an online scoring average and ranking, and awards for the winners. There will also be a $25 match fee. In order for golfers to be eligible for the championship event, they must participate in at least three of the six league matches.
Registration for the tour is projected to go live Jan. 20 at UAGolfTour.com.