THE LITTLE People's Golf Championships will return for its 39th edition next summer with a new name, a second major sponsor and renewed expectations that the junior tournament will continue to be a signature event on the Quincy landscape.
Nan Ryan, the LPGC founder and executive director, announced last week that Quincy-based wheel manufacturer Titan International will join Refreshment Services Pepsi as the major sponsors of the 2012 event. The tournament will now be known as the Pepsi Titan Little People's Golf Championships.
Ryan said Titan's financial involvement, along with that of longtime partner Pepsi, will ensure that the tournament will remain in Quincy for the foreseeable future. That likelihood was in doubt earlier this year when Ryan warned that "Little People's is in crisis" and issued an urgent plea for additional community involvement.
Titan International and Chairman and CEO Morry Taylor should be commended for answering that call, just as Refreshment Services Pepsi did when the tournament was born nearly four decades ago.
The tournament, open to golfers ages 3 through 17, got its start in 1974 and drew 174 participants to Cedar Crest Country Club. It grew steadily along with the popularity of youth golf nationwide. A record 922 players filled five area courses in 2000, and there were fields of 850 or more in six of the next seven years.
Those numbers began a sharp decline in 2008, however, when 647 golfers played in the three-day event, which always follows Father's Day. The field fell to 529 the following year, then to 403 in 2010 and to 301 this year -- the smallest since 1978.
That drop-off mirrored a nationwide trend. The number of junior golfers fell 24 percent from 2005 to 2008, according to the National Golf Foundation. Exacerbating the problem was the proliferation of junior tournaments across the country during the sport's growth years, creating an imbalance in supply and demand. The economic downturn then forced many to cut back on discretionary spending.
However, the new partnerships now provide the Little People's Golf Championships -- once the third largest junior tournament in the world -- with the opportunity to grow once again.
The LPGC has enhanced the prestige of Quincy in sporting circles and has been an economic driver in its 38 years. The Quincy Area Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the tournament has attracted more than 47,000 people and generated more than $20 million for the local economy.
In addition, the tournament has donated more than $276,000 to local charitable organizations and the Little People's gift certificate and scholarship funds through its "Kids Helping Kids" program.
A primary goal of the LPGC has always been to provide a tournament for as many young golfers as possible, allowing them to gain competitive experience, learn good sportsmanship and create lasting friendships. That has been accomplished, with more than 14,000 young golfers having competed in the LPGC since its inception, and many going on to play in high school, college and professionally.
Tournament organizers and interested community leaders should now strive to work in concert to enable the Little People's Golf Championships to be successful now and for many years to come.