The 2017 season will mark the 51st year that the Illinois Junior Golf Association (IJGA) has been conducting junior tournaments throughout the state of Illinois. The IJGA initially started as the Junior Open Division of the Northern Illinois Men’s Amateur Golf Association (NIMAGA). In 1967, the NIMAGA recognized that there was a need for a junior program, since one did not exist in, or around the Chicago area. In the summer of 1967, Mike Spinello organized and conducted three Junior Open tournaments and a Championship event. The tournaments proved to be a great success and prompted a tremendous response from the junior players.
Spinello continued to improve upon the Association by adding more events and changing formats. Because the response was so great, the Association increased with each passing year. Nine years after its humble beginnings of only three Opens and one Championship event, Spinello had increased the Association to a total of twenty-one events in order to meet the growing needs of the junior golf community. He has been recognized by the Illinois Section of the PGA and has been inducted in the Illinois PGA Hall of Fame for his work with junior golf.
During its first twenty-six years, the Association provided tournament golf for juniors ages 14 through 19. However, in 1971, a program was developed for juniors ages 10 to 13. This division was known as the Youth Development Flight and today is named the Youth Development Program (YDP). Today, the YDP division reaches juniors ages 8-13 and mainly focuses upon the rules, fundamentals, etiquette, course playing procedures, and the enjoyment of the game of golf.
On January 1, 1983, the NIMAGA Junior Golf program officially changed its name to the Illinois Junior Golf Association, making it an independent non-profit corporation, listed as a 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Three years after the change, Mike Spinello announced his retirement from the IJGA. Spinello dedicated twenty years to the Association and is still recognized today for his accomplishments. The IJGA sponsors a $500 scholarship to a member of the men’s golf team at Northern Illinois University, Mike Spinello’s alma mater, in honor of his work and dedication to establish an organized and competitive junior tournament golf program.
After Mike Spinello left the Association, John and Jean Barney, of Glenview, took over all operations of the IJGA. The Barney’s were involved with the Association for years prior to taking it over. In 1997, John and Jean Barney were inducted into the Illinois PGA Golf Hall of Fame for their continued dedication to junior golf.
In 1991, the IJGA joined forces with the Illinois Section of the PGA (IPGA) and the Chicago District Golf Association (CDGA) in order to strengthen junior golf by concentrating all junior activities under one alliance, the IJGA. Representatives of the IPGA, CDGA, and several independent directors with ties to junior golf make up the Governing Board of the IJGA. The Governing Board establishes policy for the IJGA, seeks out funding, obtains quality golf courses, and volunteers to help conduct a successful tournament.
The IJGA hired its first paid Executive Director, Roger Ulseth, in 1992. Ulseth had a passion for golf and used that passion to lead the IJGA through a period of immense growth. He expanded the IJGA by adding tournaments outside the Chicagoland area, as well as introducing many other event formats. Ulseth also improved upon the IJGA by having a paid intern staff to help conduct events, and also have a paid full-time Tournament Director. Ulseth was responsible for developing the game of golf through the IJGA tournaments and Youth Development Program (YDP).
The IJGA will continue to be one of the largest, most respected, and fundamentally sound junior golf organizations in the country due to his leadership. Roger Ulseth passed away in the midst of the 1997 season. Ulseth’s memory still lives on in the IJGA and is immortalized in the dedication of a very special event held at the end of the tournament season. This event is now renamed “The Rog” is held in memory of Roger Ulseth and his devotion to making the IJGA what is today.
Dan McGuire, III, took over as Executive Director for the IJGA at the time of Roger Ulseth’s passing, served the IJGA through the 2006 season, continuing to grow the membership base, level of service, and the overall reach of the Association during his tenure with the IJGA. Since 1993, and throughout McGuire’s era with the IJGA, the Association has added over 84 new tournaments, averaging an addition of nine new tournaments with each passing year.
In 2006, Carrie Williams was hired as the new Executive Director for the IJGA. Williams has a deep history with Illinois golf, as she previously served as the Associate Executive Director with the Illinois PGA Section. During her time with the IJGA, Williams increased the number of playing opportunities to over 130 per year, along with introducing the Mid-American Junior Golf Tour (MAJGT), an elite tour for junior golfers across the Midwest.
Today, the IJGA is led by Executive Director Jordan Abdel-Haq and seven additional full-time staff. The IJGA is continually looking to improve upon itself in order to meet the needs of its junior members, and looks to build on its strong history of service as it meets the needs of its present members, and works to stay in the forefront of the local, regional and national junior golf scene well into the future.