By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Golf is borrowing a page from football’s “Punt, Pass and Kick” competition, with the finals held at the Super Bowl of golf courses — Augusta National.
The home of the Masters is opening its gates next year to 88 kids who reach the final stage of “Drive, Chip and Putt,” a new program announced Monday aimed at drawing more juniors to golf by making it more fun.
Augusta National, the U.S. Golf Association and the PGA of America are in charge of the program.
“We all share the belief that if we can make golf fun, kids will come,” Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said.
The deadline to enter is April 30, open to boys and girls between the ages of seven and 15. There will be 110 local qualifying competitions in 19 states and Washington, D.C., in July. The top two boys and girls from the four age divisions will advance to 11 regional competitions in August.
Points will be awarded based on the distance of each drive, as long as it lands in the 30-yard fairway; three chips from 10 to 15 yards, with more points awarded based on how close it is to the hole; and three putts from 6 feet, 15 feet and 30 feet.
The eight winners from each regional competition earn a ticket to Augusta National on the Sunday before the Masters begins. The driving and chipping competition will take place on Augusta’s practice range, and the putting contest will be on the fabled 18th green, where Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and so many others made putts that won the Masters.
The finals will be televised by Golf Channel.
“Imagine if you will the incredible excitement these 88 finalists will experience as they come to the site of the Masters to compete in the driving and chipping on our beautiful tournament practice range, and as they conclude their competition, putting to win as all Masters champions have before, on the 18th green of Augusta National Golf Club,” Payne said. “No doubt, we believe April 6, 2014, will be a very special day for these kids.”
The winners won’t get a green jacket, or even a green vest, just “the experience of a lifetime,” Payne said.
There is no entry fee for Drive, Chip and Putt.
PGA of America president Ted Bishop said he expects more than 100,000 kids will enter, though there is a limit of 17,600 who can compete. If the entries exceed 17,600, there will be a lottery system to determine who gets to play.
“It is our collective hope and belief that this quest to make it to Augusta National will become the dream of kids all over the country,” Payne said.
The program is only the latest venture involving Augusta National to attract more kids to the game. USGA president Glen Nager said there has been a 30 percent decline in junior golf participation.
The Masters already has a program for the tournament where juniors get in free with an adult who has a season badge. It began televising the Par 3 Tournament, which is filled with light moments and great shots, and children caddying for their fathers; and Augusta National has allowed the course to be part of a popular EA Sports video game.
The Sunday finals will involve more than just kids.
Payne said he would open the course on Sunday for a limited number of fans to watch. He did not say how many, but assumed it would be enough to gather around the 18th green to watch the conclusion. Payne said these fans most likely would not already have Masters tickets.
If it sounds like the “Punt, Pass and Kick,” that’s not an accident. Payne said research led them to football’s popular competition for kids.
“Different sport, different way of qualifying, different everything,” he said. “But yeah, I think the success which they have been able to achieve inspired me.”