Hundreds of the world’s best junior golfers returned to East Lothian this week for the U.S. Kids Golf European Championship—a four-day competition that brought the next generation champions from all over the world to play Gullane 1 & 2, Luffness, Longniddry and Craigielaw. Not as well publicised as the British Open (due to descend on Muirfield in two years) this is major stuff—the European leg of the US Kids Championship that now takes up two separate weeks (Teens and Under 12s) at Pinehurst, North Carolina between July 27th and August 7th.
Competitors from almost 40 countries came this year. Among those traveling furthest to attend were Sakura Nagano from Japan, Carlos Philippe Winsett-Palanca from Manila in the Philippines and Wan Jia Han from China. They were not entirely blessed by the weather: blustery west winds on the first two days making play difficult for those more used to the balmy serenity of places like Pinehurst. Former Dunhill Links champion and world top-100 player Stephen Gallacher was delighted to see them returning to his home course, adding that he hoped it would help unearth the next generation of golfing talent from across Scotland and the rest of the UK. He recently joined Gullane and is currently mentoring the club’s juniors during his off time from the European Tour.
Competitors were split into age categories and each green modified for each age group, allowing players to complete each course in the same number of strokes as the top pros on the PGA tour. Top finishers in each category competed for the Van Horn Cup over Gullane No1—a show piece event modelled on the Ryder Cup, where European competitors are pitted against their non European counterparts. The top five finishers in each age and gender group automatically receive an invitation to the U.S Kids Golf World Championships at Pinehurst. They may be young but they provided quality golf for the hundreds of spectators.
Thankfully, our weather had improved by Thursday and glorious sunshine beamed across the final stages, leaving a similarly glorious forecast for the Van Horn Cup today (Friday 3rd). Talking to a three-generation de Witt family who had come from South Africa they were delighted with their experience. Grandson Henrik was none too downhearted not to have made it to the finals because the three of them—all avid golfers—had used the spare day to make a pilgrimage to St Andrews. If their experience was anything to go by, this was a brilliant showcase for East Lothian to 500 young golfers and some 2,500 family and friends who accompanied them.