Inaugural Junior Open gives Michigan prep golfers shot to make up for lost season
Kevin Arnold has coached boys golf at Hamilton High School in west Michigan for 18 years.
This certainly wasn't how he planned to head into retirement, but he also recognizes that he's had his fair share of great experiences through the years.
"Myself, I've been there and done that, all that good stuff," Arnold said. "But these poor kids, especially the seniors, they're done. They don't get a chance.
"It's just crushing."
The Michigan High School Athletic Association canceled all spring sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including boys golf.
But now, Arnold and his home course, Diamond Springs, are trying to give them their shot.
Diamond Springs announced this month it will host the inaugural Junior Open, tentatively set for June 6-7 (with June 27 a makeup date, if needed), and open to any high-school golfer who was a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior this year.
The tournament will be open to players from anywhere in the state, with the field capped at 144 players.
Arnold, also retiring as head pro at Diamond Springs after 18 years, came up with the idea, and was met with enthusiasm from the course's general manager, Mike Schrotenboer, and its event coordinator, Jess Rockhold.
"We feel bad that these kids lost their season," Schrotenboer said. "We started doing some brainstorming, and one thing led to another, and here we are. We're trying to roll with it."
The tournament will feature four flights, based on ability. The top 15 in each flight will advance to Day 2, competing for their respective championship and, yes, prizes (subject to MHSAA value limits).
The cost is $60 and includes at least one round of golf, range balls, a Diamond Springs polo shirt, and two lunch tickets, one each for the player and caddie — yes, caddies are allowed, because it's not an official sanctioned high-school event. The tournament is boys-only; the girls had their high-school season in the fall.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Diamond Springs had about 45 players registered. The deadline to sign up is May 8; players can register at diamondspringsgolf.com/junior-open.
"We just kind of thought, well, this is kind of about the same time state finals would've been," Arnold said. "Let's just get a tournament together that the kids can have fun in.
"It's not going to replace the missed season, but at least it gives them a little bit of competition."
Diamond Springs in Hamilton, 15 miles east of Saugatuck, is a public course that's home to 2016 U.S. Amateur semifinalist Nick Carlson.
The course recently reopened under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order. It's taking the typical safety precautions, including use foam noodles in the cups to keep players from touching the flag sticks, as well as the removal of bunker rakes. At the tournament, course staffers plan to keep the bunkers raked, so the players and caddies don't have to. The lunches will be served curbside-style.