The American Junior Golf Association honored Executive Director Stephen A. Hamblin for his 30 years of service at the Rolex Junior All-America Awards Banquet at PGA National Resort & Spa on Nov. 24.
The spotlight on the best and brightest of junior golf was a fitting setting to honor Hamblin, who has helped ensure the development of some of the most talented golfers in the world during his tenure, including alumni such as Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar, Peter Uihlein, Jordan Spieth, Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis, Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer.
“Stephen Hamblin has made his life's work serving youth,” AJGA Board of Directors President Jim Nugent said. “This service, through the AJGA, has changed lives.”
As a part of the evening’s events, the endowment of a Stephen A. Hamblin Achieving Competitive Excellence (ACE) Grant, funded by current and former staff, sponsors and friends, was announced. One of Hamblin’s keystone programs, the ACE Grant gives access to junior golfers, with the ability but not the financial means, to play a national junior golf schedule and compete for college golf scholarships.
Hamblin attended Michigan State University studying landscape architecture and working summers for Head Golf Professional Jay Overton at Pinehurst Resort. In 1980, Hamblin was hired as a resident golf professional at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club working for Overton, who became the Director of Golf and Tournament Chairman of the AJGA’s Polo Golf Junior Classic. The event was held from 1978-1989 on the Copperhead Course.
Overton, today the Director of Golf and Operations at Corales at Punta Cana in Mexico, recalls the day the AJGA Executive Director position became available.
“I viewed this as a perfect opportunity to push Steve out the door and on to bigger and better things,” Overton said. “I approached my dear friend Terry Smith, AJGA Board member and father of Terry, Todd and Chris, all of whom I taught golf to years before at Pinehurst, and said, ‘I don’t know what the executive committee is going to do about the vacancy, but the next Executive Director is in the Copperhead golf shop standing behind the counter. His name is Steve Hamblin."
Not long after, Hamblin was hired by Board of Directors Chairman J.R. “Digger” Smith, who has served in his own post for nearly 35 years.
“The finest thing I ever did was to give Stephen, as young as he was at the time, that post,” Smith said. “He said ‘I can do this’ and I decided to see if he could. It was the best decision I ever made.”
When a 29-year-old Hamblin took on the post in 1984, the AJGA hosted 13 tournaments, had five full-time employees, 1,100 members and a $200,000 fledgling budget. Today, the AJGA hosts more than 100 events across the United States and Canada which offer more than 17,000 playing opportunities, has 61 full-time employees, more than 6,000 members and an $11 million budget.
“It was a leap of faith at the time, but it was the best thing I ever did in my life,” Hamblin said. “I have the best job in golf.”
Beyond the numbers, Hamblin’s leadership has been the impetus to important programs which continue to this day: an industry-leading pace of play system, an unmatched tournament experience, sponsorship to keep costs low and value high for members, the ACE Grant program, strict Code of Conduct policy and a thank-you note writing program. He has done all of this while remaining true to the original mission and purpose of the AJGA: fostering the overall growth and development of young men and women who aspire to earn college golf scholarships through competitive junior golf.
“Stephen’s dedication to the AJGA’s mission and purpose for 30 years has provided the best platform for more than 100,000 juniors to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in college scholarships,” said AJGA Chief Financial Officer Jason Miller. “More importantly, he has remained steadfast in his commitment to develop these young men and women beyond golf.”
Hamblin’s legacy at the AJGA also stems from the staff he has developed over the years.
“The first thing I think of when asked about him is his x-ray vision when it comes to seeing potential in young people and his ability to bring out the best in them whether they are interns for a single season or full-time staff members,” said AJGA Board Past President Gayle Champagne, who has served on the Board for nearly 20 years.
The AJGA annually hires more than 70 interns to run its golf operations around the country, some of whom are hired full-time. Over the years, Hamblin’s lineage includes professionals in many industries, including many of golf’s most prominent leaders. Some of those people include: Peter Ripa, Tournament Director, Farmer’s Insurance Open; Mark Brazil, Tournament Director, Wyndham Championship; Michael Tothe, Tournament Director, Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial; John Kaczkowski, President & CEO, Western Golf Association; Steve Ethun, Director of Communications, Augusta National; Ben Kimball, Director of U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Amateur, USGA; and Ann Cain, Player Promotion Executive, Women's Golf, Titleist / FootJoy Worldwide).