Thunderbird International Junior named 2015 AJGA Invitational of the Year
For 16 years, the Thunderbird International Junior has drawn the top talent from around the world to Grayhawk Golf Club in the heart of the Arizona desert for one of the best junior golf experiences of the year. This unique event blends together the mission of the American Junior Golf Association and the charitable values of The Thunderbirds, an Arizona organization that has donated millions of dollars towards local causes. The 2015 Thunderbird International Junior was named the AJGA’s Invitational of the Year for its history, charitable values, volunteer support and top junior golf experience.
Each year, the AJGA presents awards to the tournaments with the best individual hospitality, Junior-Am fundraising tournament, charitable giving and volunteer base. Awards are also given to the events with the highest media and social media participation. Finally, the AJGA recognizes the year’s most outstanding golf professional, superintendent and general manager, as well as the most improved event, best new event, best Junior All-Star tournament, best Invitational and overall tournament of the year. Tournament awards for the 2015 season will be presented on-site at 2016 tournaments.
In 1999, Phil Mickelson challenged The Thunderbirds to create an event for the most competitive junior golfers in the world. Starting the next year, The Thunderbirds and the AJGA put together the inaugural Thunderbird International Junior. Through the years, the event has continued to create one of the best atmospheres in junior golf.
In order to instill the importance of giving back to the community, The Thunderbirds raise money and donate to player-indicated charities. In 2015, $25,000 was raised for causes around the country, bringing the total amount donated to nearly $400,000 since 2004 when donations first began.
“We wanted all the players to begin understanding the concept of giving back,” said Tournament Co-Chairman Del Cochran. “While all these players won’t make the Tours, we do believe they will all be successful and we want to stress the importance of leaving things better than they were.”
A truly global competition, the 2015 Thunderbird International Junior featured 78 of the highest-ranked players from 14 foreign countries and 14 states. These players travel from all corners of the world to challenge themselves against stalwart competition.
Though only one boy and one girl are crowned as champions, the entire field leaves with the experience of a lifetime. From social activities like the famous Dry Heave, a short but nerve-wracking wedge shot over water underneath the Arizona night sky, to the Glo-ball putting contest, a nighttime mini-golf course lit up by glow sticks, players each year leave the event with new friends and unforgettable memories.
“We want our guests to be independent, to mingle and compete and forge new friendships with people from all over the world,” Cochran said. “We believe the social activities after the daily competitions, from the dinners and cookout, to the games, Dry Heave and glow-in-the-dark putting contest, allows the players to have the best possible experience.
With large Masters-style scoreboards set up around the course, the 2015 Thunderbird International Junior provides a tournament atmosphere like no other. Manning the scoreboards and assisting in countless other duties around the golf course, more than 100 volunteers each day come in from surrounding communities to help give the event a professional feel.
“Having so much support from The Thunderbirds and from the volunteers who donate their time and effort help give this event a feel that we wouldn’t be able to provide on our own,” said Katie Tahara, 2015 Thunderbird International Junior tournament director. “Because of the volunteers it truly feels like a professional event when you are out on the golf course.”
The Invitational of the Year award is just the latest accolade the event has won in its 16-year history. Previously, the Thunderbird International Junior has been recognized with honors in the categories of volunteers, hospitality, superintendent, golf professional and overall tournament of the year.
The event returns to Grayhawk Golf Club’s Raptor Course in 2016 from May 27-30.