CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Half of the fun of winning a ribbon of any kind during a Drive, Chip and Putt Championship local qualifier is what do with it. Do you hang it up in your bedroom? Maybe place it in a scrapbook? Pin it to your shirt or ball cap for a day or two?
Not 7-year-old Demaris Grimes. Upon capturing a blue ribbon for chipping in the Girls 7-9 Age Division during the Chattanooga local qualifier at UT-Chattanooga’s Player Development Facility on June 24, her thoughts quickly turned to her dog back home in Lenoir City, Tenn.
After making sure a local sports writer understood that, “I’m actually seven-and-a-half,” young Grimes divulged her plan for her ribbon.
“I’m going to tie it on Wiggles,” she said.
There were plenty of golfing pups among the 142 registered golfers competing for ribbons over UTC’s three-hole practice facility, none of them more ferocious than 9-year-old Pearl Hughes and her 14-year-old brother Andrew from Dawsonville, Ga.
Both easily won their age groups to advance with the second- and third-place winners in those groups to the subregional at Capitol Hill Golf Club in Prattville, Ala., on Aug. 20. First- and second-place winners in each age group in the subregional advance to the regional at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Fla., on Sept. 16. The winner in each age group there moves onto the National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club at the start of the Masters Tournament in April of 2018.
In the case of Andrew, he was the maestro of greatest individual score of the Chattanooga qualifier with a 165, which was fitting given his budding talent as a classical pianist.
Asked his favorite composition he swiftly replied, “(Thomas) Alcott’s Sonatina in G.”
Developing the composition of the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship was a labor of love for its trio of sponsors: the USGA, PGA of America and the Masters Tournament.
“First, we wanted to make it free for kids 7 to 15 so we could include everyone who wanted to participate,” said Paul Stanek, the operations manager for the Tennessee PGA. “It’s a growth-of-the-game initiative. We want to introduce youngsters to competitive golf. And it’s fun for everyone, whether they’re picking up a club for the first time or they’ve been around the game long enough to play for their school team or in junior tournaments.”
Fun was a major reason Austin and Jennifer Barrett of Hendersonville, Tenn., got their 8-year-old son Zachary involved in Drive, Chip and Putt before making the two-hour drive to the Chattanooga qualifier.
“Have fun and be around other kids,” said Austin. “And we’ve been really happy with the program.” Added Jennifer after watching Zachary win first in the Boys 7-9 Age Division, “It’s also taught him how to control his anger (after a poor shot) and hold his head high after he makes a mistake.”
Because 13-year-old Ryan Eiselstein couldn’t control Mother Nature’s tears early Saturday morning, he didn’t have to decide whether or not to play North Hamilton Patriots select team or participate in the Drive, Chip and Putt boys 12-13 division.
After placing second in his age group to advance to the subregional, Eiselstein was asked if, forced to choose, he would rather play pro golf or pro baseball.
“Both,” he said.
Both 9-year-old Sahish Reddy (Boys 10-11 Age Division) and Anish Reddy (14-15) of Johns Creek, Ga., advanced to the subregional, Sahish as a winner and Anish as a third-place finisher. Having played golf only two years, Sahish is already finishing high in national tournaments – including third in last year’s U.S. Kids Golf World Championship – and drew numerous “oohs” and “aahs” for his laser-accurate 250-yard drives in the Drive, Chip and Putt qualifier.
“We really like the program,” said the boys’ father, Sampath Reddy as he toted his sons' bags. “It’s so fun for the kids; just all the people they get to meet.”
As the Grimes family prepared to head back to Lenoir City and their nine-hole home course Concord Park, Demaris’ blue ribbon for chipping reserved for Wiggles and the future of 10-year-old sister MaryAnn’s red ribbon for finishing second in putting still uncertain, Bryson Grimes said of his goal for the Drive, Chip and Putt experience, “I hope it will teach them sportsmanship.”
Added Sarah Grimes of what she likes most about her daughters embracing golf: “It’s also something we can do for fun as a family.”
Sometimes it even provides a fun surprise for the family dog.