Headshot courtesy of Stephen Hamblin & Georgia State Golf Association

If you talk to an average golfer about who’s made the biggest impact in golf, you’re going to hear Bobby Jones, The Big Three, and Tiger. But when it comes to the business side, I’m going to guess that nine out of 10 people are going to say the name of our very esteemed guest this episode. Stephen Hamblin, Executive Director of the American Junior Golf Association- the AJGA- joins us.

The following excerpt has been edited for space. Listen to the rest of the episode here.

Alyson Johnson: Can you just talk to us a little bit about how you train your talent and, and where some of the places they’ve gone?

Stephen Hamblin: Well, I think the process starts with the applications to become an intern. Right now we’re getting 1700 applications a year for 60 spots, which is incredible because that means with that large of a pool, I’m going to get some really talented young men and young women. I figured out with the industry trying to become more diverse, more equitable, more inclusive, my internship is a great place to start. We’re trying to reach out to a lot of minority golf organizations for help in identifying young men and women who might want to have a job in golf.

And what I don’t think people understand enough is, there are so many exceptional jobs in golf. There’s exceptional people, there’s great compensation. There’s the tours. There’s coaching. There’s all sorts of state golf associations. We just had a young man get hired to go be the Executive Director at the Georgia PGA section.

So, you know, uh, we’re really proud. And, and some of the names, you know, you might recognize John, who’s the CEO of the Western Golf Association, got his job with us. The gentleman running The Masters, Steve Ethan, worked at the AJGA and was hired by Augusta National from us. One coach, Ryan Hibell, was just in the finals for the NCAA championship.

Adam Grubb: What’s exciting is that there is a phrase there that you’re not just preparing golfers, you’re preparing people to work, to be successful, to have an understanding of their accomplishment and achievement at such a young age. You also have all these people that are shaping the game, shaping futures, and you’ve created careers and lives for people because of your organization. Is that right? 

Stephen Hamblin: It’s totally right. To be honest with you, our business model starts with a great board of people that don’t dictate to me and the staff what we should be doing, we go to the board with our strategic initiatives of what we want to accomplish and their expertise in a variety of fields. This helps us kind of fine tune what that strategic initiative should look like and how it should perform. There’s many golf organizations that are not like that. It’s it’s executive committee on down, and they tell the staff what to do and what their strategic initiatives should be. So I think we’re more nimble. I think we can be more creative. I think we can be quicker to the market with a great idea.

As an example, we were the organization that came up with pace of play the way everyone’s doing it now. Uh, you know, our, our staff figured it out, uh, because we set that as, as a strategic initiative for, for the organization. I really love what we’ve done as an organization, and loved the fact that we ran 101 events in 2020.

Adam Grubb: Nobody ran events in 2020!

Stephen Hamblin: Well, you know, funny story, but the staff was all worried and had all these questions. And I said, you guys sit down and give me all your questions and send them to me. Well, they sent me 300 questions, 300! Then I go, okay, great job, now you answer ‘em. And that became our playbook. We had a 25 page playbook. On how to run events in a pandemic and we’re getting people going, Hey, can you send me that? 

Alyson Johnson: The day-to-day product that you’re putting out with your tournaments, you’re creating these competitive experiences for junior golfers to compete in, in order to attract collegiate coaches to hopefully get scholarships. So can you talk a little bit about what that process is? 

Stephen Hamblin: Yeah, I mean, we serve a membership, like you said, 7,300 (people) from all 50 states and 60 different countries. We provide a platform for kids to get exposure and whether a coach goes there or not, our results get fed to these 1,500 coaches, men, women.

And so we’ve seen a lot of the coaches because of the way they trust the way we set up a golf course. When we set it up, it’s tough, but fair. And the coaches know that they’ve given us the yardage that they want to see kids play from both the men’s and the women’s. We’re willing to give out penalties where others don’t want to do that. 

We’ve got a variety of stages of development; if you’re coming in and your younger, we’ve got a series of tournaments called the Junior All-Star for the younger kids, 12 to 15. Then we’ve got events. If you’ve never played with the AJGA before these preview events, then we have open and invitational, which is our highest- the Wyndham cup is one of those invitationals, the highest on our schedule.

We’re really trying to motivate the young men and women to achieve their goal and their dreams. Then we’re going to reward them along the way in a variety of ways.

Listen to the rest of the episode here to learn more about the AJGA and their programs, tournaments, and their mission of motivating junior golfers to shape the game.