The American Junior Golf Association named Global Golf Post publisher Jim Nugent as the recipient of the J.R. “Digger” Smith Award, which honors longtime service and dedication to junior golf.
Presented annually since 1991, the J.R. “Digger” Smith Award is given to a supporter who is devoted to the AJGA mission and purpose of developing young men and women through competitive junior golf. The award is named in honor of AJGA Chairman of the Board J.R. “Digger” Smith, who has personally dedicated himself to the AJGA and to junior golf for nearly 40 years.
“Jim has dedicated so much of his time and energy to the AJGA, he is unquestionably deserving of the award,” said Smith, who first started his association with the AJGA as a junior golf parent. “Jim is so knowledgeable about golf and all of the various stakeholders in the profession – he has been a tremendous asset to the Association all these years.”
A respected golf media executive, Nugent has been immersed in the game of golf for most of his life. Growing up, he caddied in Chicago and followed the careers of heroes Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange and Seve Ballesteros through magazines. This early love for the game helped inspire a career over myriad roles in golf media.
During the recession in 2008 and the lean years that followed, Nugent went bigger: forming Global Golf Post, a digital-only weekly publication aimed at worldwide golf fans. The Georgetown and Northwestern MBA grad pioneered the concept of digital in the industry, and now serves nearly 2.5 million golfers in distinct editions.
In addition to his professional success, Nugent has served on the AJGA’s Executive Committee since 1993 and as President of the Board of Directors since 2013. Over those years, he has contributed to the AJGA in many ways, including providing the AJGA with advertising and editorial opportunities to celebrate top junior golfers and Association milestones.
“I am deeply, deeply honored to receive this award, particularly because I have such great respect and admiration for Digger Smith and all that he has meant for the AJGA,” Nugent said. “In 1990, I was looking for a way to give back to a game that had given me an awful lot. At the time, I was only vaguely aware of the AJGA, so I went to Steve [Hamblin] and I was all in from that moment on. I feel very fortunate to have been able to serve for as long as I have.”
Smith and Executive Director Stephen Hamblin credit Nugent with providing an insider view on the golf industry.
“Jim is one of our biggest fans. He appreciates who we are as an organization and how we conduct our business, but there was really a time when we needed fans, especially on the media side,” Hamblin said.
“Jim’s knowledge of the golf industry has always fascinated me. He knows most everything before it gets announced. I think I was able to 'scoop' him one time in 25 years.”
During Nugent’s tenure, the AJGA has experienced massive growth and initiated many industry-leading policies, including the establishment of the Achieving Competitive Excellence (ACE) Grant program aimed at eliminating the elitist image national junior golf.
The ACE Grant helps ensure talented juniors can travel, pay for entry fees and expenses related to accessing the top level of national junior golf, including state junior, AJGA and USGA championships. Since the program’s inception in 2003, the program has helped more than 900 golfers turn $3.5 million dollars in reimbursements into $14.5 million in college golf scholarships. The program is on pace to reimburse a half-million dollars in 2017 alone.
A personal high point for Nugent was presenting the Stephen A. Hamblin ACE Grant endowment in 2013 as a part of the executive director’s 30th anniversary. The $100,000 capital for the grant, funded through gifts from current and former AJGA staff, sponsors and friends, was raised as a tribute to the impact of Hamblin’s leadership through the years.
Nugent points to Smylie Kaufman’s first professional win on the PGA TOUR in 2015 as the high-water mark for the program.
“We could point to a man who advanced through junior golf, played college golf and won on the PGA TOUR. We didn’t need it, but that was a moment that ratified, for a lot of people, how important this program can be for individuals and families. The ACE Grant changed the arc of Smylie’s life and I believe he and his family are acutely aware of that. Changing lives is almost embedded in the mission and purpose of the AJGA. Of that, I’m very proud.”
Nugent will be presented formally with the Digger Smith Award on Nov. 18 after the AJGA Board of Directors Fourth Quarter meeting during the Rolex Tournament of Champions at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.