History of the Optimist Junior Golf Program

Since 1978, Optimist-sponsored golf tournaments have served as a springboard for many of golf’s greatest players. Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Davis Love III, Tiger Woods, Michelle McGann and Nancy Lopez are just a few of today’s elite players who found their humble beginnings with the Optimists.

No other junior golf tournament quite compares to that of the Optimist International Junior Golf Championships, which focuses on fair competition and cultural understanding among youth. This unique tournament offers as broad a field and expanded age groups as any other in its class.

This world-class event originated in 1968 when three leaders of the San Diego County Junior Golf Association—Norrie West, Mrs. A.S. Smith and John Brown—carried out an idea of Brown’s by forming Junior World Golf. “I just thought it would be a great thing if young people from throughout the world could meet each other and play with each other in an international junior golf tournament,” Brown said.

That first year, Junior World drew entries from six foreign nations: Pakistan, Canada, Mexico, Thailand, Portugal and the Philippines. In all, 475 golfers came from 20 states and seven nations. Then, in 1978, through the action of Dudley Williams, a lifelong San Diego resident and soon-to-be President of Optimist International, the Optimists became a sponsor of the event, thus creating “Optimist Junior World.” Through this partnership, Optimist International began holding qualifying tournaments for 15- to 17-year-olds across the United States and Canada. As a result, 55 tournaments drew more than 3,500 entrants.

In an effort to expand the tournament, Optimist International moved the event to South Florida’s Doral Country Club in 1995 and renamed the event the Optimist International Junior Golf Championships. The plan proved so successful that after only one year, the event, commonly referred to as simply THE OPTIMIST, moved again to a more suitable location at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens.

The Optimist International Junior Golf Championships continues to be one of the most recognizable junior tournaments in the world with more than 5,000 golfers, ages 10-18, participating in qualifying tournaments each year. In 1999, THE OPTIMIST expanded to a two-tournament format to accommodate the increasing number of participants. Annually more than 620 of the best junior golfers, representing more than 30 nations, 45 states and six Canadian provinces, converge for a week of unsurpassed competition, fellowship and fun.

New in 2005, the Optimist International Tournament of Champions was created as an invitational junior golf championship for previous participants of Optimist Junior Golf events and other top junior golfers. The inaugural Tournament of Champions took place in Miami, Florida in December 2005 on the Blue Monster course at Doral Golf Resort & Spa, home the PGA Tour's Ford Championship. The Tournament of Champions is for male and female junior golfers ages 14-18.

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