The American Junior Golf Association named Chuck Strong, Tournament Chair of the Callaway Golf / Ollie Schniederjans Junior Classic, as the recipient of the 2018 J.R. “Digger” Smith Award, which honors longtime service and dedication to junior golf.
Presented annually since 1991, the J.R. “Digger” Smith Award is given to a supporter who is 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 J.R. “Digger” Smith, who has personally dedicated himself to the AJGA and to junior golf for more than 40 years.
“I’m very appreciative and humbled by this award,” Strong said. “Digger has been pivotal in the development and growth of junior golf and the AJGA. Through his passion, financial support and leadership, he has provided so many opportunities for AJGA participants. In a small way, our tournament supports his vision and I am honored to receive this award in his name.”
Giving back has been a cornerstone of the Callaway Golf Junior Classic since it began. Since 2009, Strong and his committee have returned nearly $500,000 back to local charities and the AJGA’s Achieving Competitive Excellence (ACE) Grant financial assistance program.
“What Chuck Strong has done for the ACE Grant and local charities is incredible,” said AJGA Executive Director Stephen Hamblin. “Having a strong supporter like him in our backyard is a blessing to the AJGA, and I appreciate everything Chuck has done for junior golf. For the past 10 years, Chuck has helped run an exemplary tournament that has set the standard for many other AJGA tournament committees across the country.”
In addition to giving back, Strong and his team strive to provide the best player, family, sponsor and volunteer experience each year. Highlights from recent years include a PGA TOUR-like electronic scoreboard, driving range nameplates, additional meals and tournaments gifts, a helicopter golf ball drop, volunteer apparel, standard bearers and walking scorers with each group. The tournament has won five AJGA tournament awards including the 2017 Open Tournament of the Year Award.
Ten years ago, Country Club of the South member Keith Kennerly, father of current Web.com Tour player Billy Kennerly, approached Strong about their club hosting an annual AJGA spring tournament. Strong contacted the AJGA, and the rest is history.
“Chuck was the person who brought the AJGA to my home course and it helped me as a junior golfer looking to play college golf,” said Billy Kennerly, who competed in the event three times before playing college golf at Clemson. “It was fun to feel the support of my community. It was one of the best Open events I played, and as good as it was then, I’ve heard it’s even better now. It’s great to see Chuck honored for all of his hard work.”
In addition to Kennerly, numerous professional golfers have competed at the tournament including 2018 Tournament Host Ollie Schniederjans, Daniel Berger, Smylie Kaufman, Austin Ernst and Mariah Stackhouse.
Former Country Club of the South General Manager Reggie Kratzer worked with Strong on the tournament from 2012-2016.
“When I was at the club, Chuck and I made it a point for the AJGA tournament to be the best club event of the year,” said Kratzer, now the general manager at The Georgia Club. “Chuck’s leadership and dedication made the tournament rewarding and fun to work on, and we always had a goal of winning an AJGA award each year. The event became, and I’m sure still is, a priority event for the club and junior golf. He worked nonstop to make it the best, and the fact that he is being acknowledged for his efforts is well deserved.”
When tournament time is around the corner, Strong’s wife of 53 years, Dianne, says Strong will spend around six hours per day in his office that they’ve nicknamed “the situation room.” Strong’s involvement with the AJGA has become a family affair with his children and grandchildren volunteering each year and becoming more invested in golf.
“Chuck has enjoyed the AJGA so much, and is so passionate about the game and the organization,” Dianne said. “We hosted our first tournament when our youngest grandchild was six. After watching the AJGA players, she and the other three grandkids wanted to play and learn from their Papa. Almost every Sunday, the kids take lessons at the club and get to spend some time with us.”
Before his tenure as an AJGA Tournament Chair, Strong got his first taste of the golf industry as a General Motors executive who oversaw the Oldsmobile golf programs that included the Official Car for the PGA of America, Official Car of the LPGA, and PGA and LPGA Tour events.
Strong was the first President and Board Member of The Country Club of the South and was a member of the Georgia Junior Golf Foundation Board and the Georgia PGA Section.
An active golfer, Strong has enjoyed watching his four grandchildren grow to love golf and participates in tournaments with Dianne.
Strong was honored with the Digger Smith Award on April 26, 2018 at the Callaway Golf / Ollie Schniederjans Junior Classic VIP Dinner.