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, Jason Day, Jeff Overton, Billy Horschel,
Tiger Woods, Lexi Thompson, Brittany Lincicome, Michelle McGann and Nancy Lopez are just a few of the elite players who have started their careers at Optimist Junior Golf events.
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 the players and their families.
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 next year the event moved to PGA National Resort & Spa. Starting in 2019 the tournament moved back to Doral, Miami.
The Optimist International Junior Golf Championships continues to be one of the most recognizable junior tournaments in the world with more than 6,000 golfers, ages 10-18, participating in qualifying tournaments each year. The Optimist holds three phases to accommodate the increasing number of participants, (phase 1-Boys 10-11, 12-13 and Girls 10-12), (phase 2-Boys 14-15 and Girls 13-14), (Phase 3-Boys 16-18 and Girls 15-18).
Annually more than 660 of the best junior golfers, representing more than 30 nations, 45 states and six Canadian provinces, converge for a week of unsurpassed competition and fellowship. What makes us unique from other tournaments, participants and their guests are housed, play golf, enjoy group meals, special events, entertainment and fun all at a world-class resort.
College coaches come from all over the country to scout some of the best junior players in the world.
Each year in November, the Optimist Tournament of Champions is held. An invitational event featuring the top finishers from Optimist Championships, District qualifiers and other top junior golf events.
The inaugural Tournament of Champions took place in Miami, Florida in December 2005 on the Blue Monster course at Doral Golf Resort & Spa. The Tournament of Champions is a 36 hole event for male and female junior golfers ages 11-18.
The Optimist Junior Golf program also offers an Optimist Junior Golf Tour Event: This 36-hole event is for male and female junior golfers ages 11-18. This is a qualifier for the Optimist International Junior Golf Championships and ranked by Junior Golf Scoreboard. The Tour Event location is in Denver, Colorado.