Crim: Little People’s Golf Championships in new hands with growing expectations

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QUINCY — The 51st Pepsi Little People’s Golf Championships will look a lot like the 50 before it.

Many of the sponsors and volunteers remain the same. Ditto for the format. The youngest golfers will play at the Knights of Columbus Par-3 Course and most of the rest at Westview Golf Course during the three-day event scheduled for June 16-19. Trophies and medals will be awarded.

There will be a few subtle changes. Electronic scoring will replace the massive paper scoreboard at Westview, and the boys 16-18 division will return to Spring Lake Country Club, where it was played during the LPGC’s heyday.

The biggest difference, of course, will be that Nan Ryan, who founded the junior tournament in 1974 and grew it into one of the world’s best while serving as its executive director for five decades, has passed the baton to the Quincy Service Club.

Not that Ryan has walked away completely.

“While we have control of the tournament, we still listen to her,” said Mike McLaughlin, co-chairman of the event. “We appreciate her looking over our shoulder and telling us what to do.

“She’s the godmother of the Little People’s. She wants things to be done right, and so do we.”

The Quincy Service Club, formerly the Quincy Exchange Club, has a history of staging large-scale sporting events. It brought the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament to Quincy and operated it on downtown streets for 30 years before discontinuing it after the 2021 tourney.

So, when Ryan, eyeing retirement, began looking for an organization to take over the LPGC, it was a natural fit.

“In talking with some of the guys in the club, we were saying, ‘We can’t let this thing go,’ ” McLaughlin said. “It’s not like we’re reinventing the wheel. Nan had a pretty good game plan. We’re just taking over what she has done and moving it further into the 21st century.”

In anticipation of the takeover, McLaughlin and other club members shadowed every aspect of the 2023 tournament, from the parent-child event to the practice rounds to the family picnic through the two days of tourney play, gleaning as much information as possible.

“I spent one day as a starter and I would ask parents what they see at other tournaments that we’re not doing,” McLaughlin said. “That’s where we came up with electronic scoring on phones. It can be done instantaneously, and we’ll have TV screens set up where you can see scores instead of on the scoreboard.”

Committees were formed to handle various aspects of the tournament. The club contacted established volunteers and sponsors to see if they would remain. New sponsors from the club’s Gus Macker days also have signed on. PGA pro Mark Christensen will serve as tournament director.

“It’s a testament to the people in Quincy who want to see the tournament succeed,” McLaughlin said.

At its height, the LPGC drew more than 900 golfers ages 3 to 18 in a single year, necessitating the need for multiple courses throughout the region to stage the event. 

That, however, came at a time when there were few junior tournaments being played at the same time of year. Now, there are more than 80 events worldwide overlapping with the LPGC.

Still, there were 203 participants in 2023, a number the Quincy Service Club is working to grow.

“We’re hoping to get 300 entries this year,” McLaughlin said. “We’re not too far from that 50 days out, and we’re expecting to get more closer to the deadline. That would be a comfortable level for us this year to get our feet wet as a club.”

Increasing the number of local golfers — defined as those living within the Refreshment Services Pepsi trade area — has been a major push.

To help facilitate that, the club is offering those golfers a 30% discount on the entry fee, which is between $100 and $195, depending on the age division. A few scholarships also will be provided for underprivileged kids to help with turnout.

So far, that seems to be working.

“Local entries have more than doubled this year,” McLaughlin said. “Our goal is to get more local kids involved in the tournament to help build it up and get back to bigger numbers.”

Ryan, who lives year-around in Estes Park, Colo., will return to her hometown for this year’s tournament. For the first time in 50 years, however, she can relax, be a spectator and visit old friends while leaving work for others.

“I have really enjoyed talking with her over the past year,” McLaughlin said. “We just want her to come and enjoy herself.”

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