When the 53rd annual Cumberland County Golf Championship tees off in October, it will have a new look.
A youth division for players in middle and high school has been added for the tournament at Gates Four Golf & Country Club.
“The reason we created it is to grow and develop the champions of tomorrow,” said tournament director Bill Bowman.
“I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. Everyone thinks it’s a great idea and they have been very supportive.”
There will be divisions for boys and girls in age groups of 12 to 14 (middle school) and 15 to 18 (high school). The CCGC will be held Oct. 15-17 at Gates Four. The youths will play the final two days for a 36-hole event. The entry fee is $145 which includes the Champions Reception & Pairing Party, a practice round, range balls, food and on-course beverages and the CCGC Winners Reception.
Billy West, an 8-time champion of the CCGC, first played in the tournament when he turned 16 and became eligible.
“I am very excited to see the CCGC add a junior division,” he said, “When I was a junior golfer growing up in Cumberland County, I could not wait to turn 16 so I could compete in the CCGC. I admired and looked up to local golfers such as Gary Robinson Gene Howell, Mike Williford, Gary Moore and David Hinkamp. I dreamed of one day having my name on the CCGC trophy.”
Bowman and West hope the addition of a Junior Division will develop players for the main CCGC tournament in the future.
“I think the addition of a Junior Division will not only help grow junior golf in our area but also will help sustain the adult divisions for years to come,” West said.
“We have many great junior players right now in Cumberland County who are some of the best players in the state and country in their age divisions. I hope they will compete in the CCGC Junior Division.”
Bowman added “the talent is out there. We just need to groom it. I think the kids are going to have a good time. I think they can learn a lot by watching some of the veteran players we have signed up.”
Anthony Carstarphen, the golf coach at South View High School and a teaching pro at Gates Four, is helping Bowman get the project off the ground. He believes interest in the Junior Division will be high.
“I had kids trying to sign up before the site was even up,” he said. “So, we definitely have got the interest.”
There are players in the county to tap into. Gates Four, Cypress Lakes, King’s Grant and Highland Country Club all have junior golf programs — not to mention the many high school golf teams in the county.
“It’s going to give us players for the future,” Carstarphen said. “That’s what will allow this tournament to keep going.”
Kevin Lavertu, the general manager at Gates Four, said he had discussed with Bowman about adding a junior division for a few years.
“We thought we would take a shot at it,” Lavertu said.
Bowman said he is limiting the Junior Division field to 30 players this year.
“We have to be able to manage the field and get our hands around it,” Lavertu said. “We host U.S. Kids Golf here two times a year and we get 80 to 100 players. If it gets to that point, maybe we need to have a Cumberland County junior tournament that would take place in the summer when the kids are out of school.”
The 53-year-old main CCGC tournament has struggled in recent years since losing its major sponsor. Bowman, the publisher of Up & Coming Weekly community newspaper, took up the mantle in 2017 and has led the effort trying to rebuild the event. With the support and encouragement of businesses like the Richardson Law Firm, Healy Wholesale, Fastsigns and dozens of other local businesses who realize how important it is to maintain this golfing tradition in Cumberland County for future generations.
“We want to start the kids young in tournament play and hopefully build the county tournament back up,” Lavertu said. “It used to be 200-plus people playing multiple golf courses.”
Junior players who are at least 16 years old can still choose to play in the main tournament instead of the Junior Division. Spencer Oxendine won the CCGC in 2018 when he was a senior at Jack Britt High School and Toni Blackwell won the women’s division in 2019 when she was a senior at Cape Fear.
“This is kind of a test in the water and see what the interest level is,” Lavertu said. “We’ll evaluate it and assess it and see what makes sense moving forward.”
If junior players need any encouragement to sign up, they can listen to West.
“For me, there has been no greater honor in my golf career than winning my county’s golf championship,” he said. “I hope our local junior players will feel the same way about the CCGC. It is a special tournament and always has been the most important to me from the age of 16 to present.”
Junior players must reside in Cumberland County and must sign up by Oct. 10 at 5 p.m. Players can register online at cumberlandcountygolfclassic.com or by returning an application to Kevin Lavertu at Gates Four Country Club. Application forms are available at all local golf courses. Players who register by Sept. 30 will receive a free round for a foursome at Gates Four, Baywood, Stryker and King’s Grant.
James Sherrill local businessman and owner of sweetFrog premium frozen yogurt thinks this a great opportunity for developing young athletes, and has signed on to be the Title Sponsor for the CCGC Junior Division.
Local businesses and organizations can support the Junior Division by sponsoring players. All sponsors are invited to the champion’s reception and pairings party and the awards and trophy presentations. They also will have their name and logo on youth commemorative shirts and promotional materials.
To sponsor a child or for more information, contact Bill Bowman at 910-391-3859 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pictured above: Arianna Mclawhorn prepares to tee off on Hole #1 at Gates Four.