AJGA Executive Director Stephen Hamblin presented Arnaud Laborde of Rolex with the Digger Smith Award on Nov. 20.
Rolex honored with Digger Smith Award for longtime service to junior golf
The American Junior Golf Association awarded Rolex with the J.R. “Digger” Smith Award, which honors longtime service and dedication to junior golf, during the Rolex Junior All-America Awards Banquet at PGA National Resort & Spa on Nov. 20.
As the first company recognized since the inception of the Digger Smith Award in 1991, Rolex has supported premier AJGA competition and achievements for more than 30 years. Through the years, the timepiece manufacturer has supported two marquee events in the Rolex Tournament of Champions and Rolex Girls Junior Championship and provided worldwide recognition for the Rolex Junior All-America Teams. Rolex also supports the PING Junior Solheim Cup and is a founding corporate partner of the AJGA’s Achieveing Competitive Excellence (ACE) Grant program.
“In its dedication to supporting the next generation for more than 30 years, Rolex is the perfect Digger Smith Award recipient,” said AJGA Executive Director Stephen Hamblin. “A strong supporter of the golf industry, Rolex has provided a platform for amazing performances and inspired dreams across four decades. We couldn’t be prouder to recognize our partner and friend with this honor.”
The J.R. “Digger” Smith Award is given annually to a supporter 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 and parent J.R. “Digger” Smith, who has dedicated himself to the AJGA and to junior golf since the 1980s.
The timing of the AJGA-Rolex partnership was fortuitous from the start.
In 1986, Phil Mickelson won the Rolex Tournament of Champions and became one of 13 players to catapult into Rolex Junior Player of the Year honors during the same year.
It was just the beginning of the road for Mickelson who experienced a meteoric rise, becoming the winningest junior golfer in AJGA history, and the only three-time Rolex Junior Player of the Year recipient (1986, 1987, 1988).
In 1991, another young man first made his name on the national junior golf scene before changing the game forever.
Tiger Woods won eight of the 13 events he played on the way to two back-to-back Rolex Junior Player of the Year honors (1991, 1992).
In 1992, Rolex commissioned the permanent bronze Rolex Junior Player of the Year trophy used today from renowned artist Ray Ellis. The annual award, named “The Young Golfer” aimed to capture junior golf’s special history, the excitement of the current champion and the promise of the future.
Using competitive golf as a backdrop to launch successful next generation college and professional players, Rolex added top-tier opportunities especially for female junior golfers in 2002 through its support of the Rolex Girls Junior Championship. That same year, five-time Rolex Junior All-American Inbee Park used a win at the event to earn Rolex Junior Player of the Year honors.
In each decade, Rolex’s support has allowed the AJGA to assist junior golfers launch onto a big stage, perhaps most importantly as the founding partner of the AJGA’s ACE Grant. The reimbursement program ensures competitive opportunities for all talented junior golfers regardless of financial circumstance.
As the AJGA’s first Premier Partner, Rolex increased their support of the AJGA as an official partner of the PING Junior Solheim Cup, further connecting their partnerships in women’s golf.
When he gave his acceptance speech at “The Greatest Night of Junior Golf,” 2009 Rolex Junior Player of the Year Jordan Spieth connected the prestige of the award for junior golfers over the years.
“[Earning Rolex Junior Player of the Year honors] was my number one goal, and I truly believe it’s the greatest achievement in junior golf,” said Spieth, recognized as a Rolex Junior All-American for three years for his top performances. “The combination of the unbelievable talent and the intense competition in the AJGA creates an incredible atmosphere at every event. It means a lot to say that I play on the AJGA tour.”
Rolex, the leading brand of the Swiss watch industry, is headquartered in Geneva and enjoys an unrivalled reputation for quality and expertise the world over. Its Oyster watches, all certified as Superlative Chronometers for their precision, performance and reliability, are symbols of excellence, elegance and prestige. Founded by Hans Wilsdorf in 1905, the brand pioneered the development of the wristwatch and is at the origin of numerous major watchmaking innovations, such as the Oyster, the first waterproof wristwatch, launched in 1926, and the Perpetual rotor self-winding mechanism invented in 1931. Rolex has registered over 400 patents in the course of its history. A truly integrated and independent manufacturing company, Rolex designs, develops and produces all the essential components of its watches in-house, from the casting of the gold alloys to the machining, crafting, assembly and finishing of the movement, case, dial and bracelet. Rolex is also actively involved in supporting the arts, sports, exploration, the spirit of enterprise, and the environment through a broad palette of sponsoring activities as well as philanthropic programs.