More than 40 competitors – ages 10-18 – will face a true test of skill today as they will square off for a chance to play in the Optimist International Junior Golf Championships.
Hosted by the Pine Bluff Country Club, the tournament is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. and will feature players from both Arkansas and Texas.
“It is a great opportunity for young golfers,” said event coordinator Tom Martfeld.
The tournament is open to boys and girls and tee times and locations are designated according to age.
Martfeld said due to a scheduling conflict, the expected number of attendees has dropped off a little bit from last year.
“We normally have around 60,” Martfeld said. “We are scheduled the same weekend with a tournament in Mississippi and therefore are down in numbers this year.”
Martfeld said some competitors are from the Pine Bluff and Warren areas.
Winners in each flight will qualify for an expense-paid trip to the championship at Pal Beach Gardens in Florida. The tournament is one of largest junior golf events in the world.
More than 5,000 boys and girls throughout the United States and Canada and in several foreign countries compete in official Optimist qualifying tournaments – like the one being held today.
Participants have the opportunity to meet new friends from all over the world.
Each year, more than 650 junior golfers from 30 countries participate in the Optimist.
Martfeld said he knows players who still keep in touch with people from the Philippines, South America and Europe.
Reggie Grant, the golf pro at the country club, said events like these give the participants a unique experience.
“The kids that go through here will play against some of the best players in world in their age division,” Grant said. “It will provide them with a true test of golf.”
Simmons First Bank sponsors the event, which is being held in Pine Bluff for the third straight year.
“The money that we raise [today] will be used to promote the junior golf program in Arkansas,” Martfeld said.
Martfeld said it is difficult for Optimist Club to raise money completely on its own, so they have to rely on local businesses to help pay for the trip to Florida.
“This is our third year in Pine Bluff, and we are real fortunate to be here,” Martfeld said. “For the staff and members to allow us to play on Saturday so that parents and players can make the tournament, is quite nice of them.”
Martfeld said it is rare for a country club to turn over its entire club on a Saturday morning.
“We are very fortunate,” Martfeld said.
Grant said that while 40 participants have signed up, they will allow walk-ups.
“This is a positive opportunity for the Pine Bluff community and we are excited to host,” Grant said.