Wyndham Championship Tournament Director Mark Brazil was named the American Junior Golf Association’s Digger Smith Award Recipient at a special dinner in his honor at PGA National Resort & Spa on November 23. In addition to the award presented, an ACE Grant endowment in his name was presented by friends and supporters.
Presented annually since 1991, the J.R. “Digger” Smith Award is given 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 J.R. “Digger” Smith, who has dedicated himself to the AJGA and to junior golf for more than three decades.
The ACE Grant began as a response to be more inclusive in golf – to provide talented junior golfers with the financial means to compete nationally without barriers of travel, entry fees and membership. Since 2003, ACE Grant alumni have turned $4.3 million in reimbursements into $16.3 million in college scholarships.
The Grant made it possible for juniors like Doug Ghim (now a PGA TOUR professional), Trinity King (in college at TCU) and 2019 Rolex Junior Players of the Year Maxwell Moldovan and Rose Zhang to chase their dreams of a college golf scholarship and play in top-level events.
Brazil, employed with the Greensboro-area PGA TOUR event for more than 18 years, is one of 45 former AJGA employees to graduate to a role in professional golf administration. Prior to his service, the Baylor University grad worked for the AJGA from 1993 to 2001 in tournament administration and development.
“It is very humbling, but I really look at this award, and always have, as junior golf’s highest award and biggest honor,” Brazil said. “The news really did not sink in right away and I was totally shocked. We all have a deep appreciation and respect for Digger Smith and what he has meant to the organization. To win anything with his name on it is an honor.
“I worked at the AJGA for eight years and fell in love with the purpose and mission. When I saw what the AJGA started doing by providing and creating more opportunities for kids outside of the organization as well by ramping up the ACE Grant, I knew this was going to be a charity I wanted to support for the rest of my life.”
In 2005, Brazil also joined the Board of Directors, and now works specifically on the AJGA’s charitable foundation which oversees financial aid and leadership programming for junior golfers and an unmatched internship in sports.
In his career, Brazil has impacted thousands of young men and women who aspire to earn college golf through aligning corporate support of his title sponsor with AJGA events.
“Mark deserves a lot of credit for putting incredible companies together in Wyndham and BB&T to sponsor and support our AJGA event,” said Bobby Powell, Wyndham Championship Director of Operations. “We’re fortunate he could see down the road and elevate this event to a much higher level.”
The Wyndham Cup is an annual East-versus-West Ryder Cup-style match play event that features the top 20 boys and girls from East of the Mississippi against their counterparts in the West. The tournament began in 1990 and has featured top alumni in the game like Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Grace Park, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, Morgan Pressel and Lexi Thompson.
The Wyndham Invitational is hosted annually at Sedgefield Country Club and taps into Brazil’s resources – staff, volunteers and local Triad-area support. The top-72 boys in the Rolex AJGA Rankings annually make Greensboro an early summer stop on their competitive schedules. Since 1988, 86 Wyndham Invitational alumni have graduated to also play in the PGA TOUR event as pros including Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Morgan Hoffmann, Kyle Stanley and Patrick Reed.
For five of the tournament’s years, Brazil provided one of his Wyndham Championship exemptions to the junior champion. Justin Thomas became the third-youngest to make the PGA TOUR cut in 2009.
“One thing reflective of successful people is loyalty,” said The First Tee Triad President and CEO Mike Barber. “The moment he left, he didn’t leave it in his heart. As you see in the Wyndham Cup and the Wyndham Invitational … all the things he’s done over the past 20 years … since he became the tournament director, he’s had the AJGA in his frontal lobe.”
In addition to tournament support, Brazil has connected the AJGA with partners, venues and PGA TOUR players over the years. It is estimated the financial impact of these introductions and assistance is north of $4 million but its impact can be felt even more widely.
“What I love about the people who leave the AJGA and go on is that they are always looking to give back,” said Stephen Hamblin, AJGA Executive Director. “Mark is on the top of the list. He’s constantly looking out for us with sponsor opportunities, invitations to the tournament, and he serves on our board. We appreciate everything he’d done for us and what he means to us.”
In 2019, Brazil and Harold Varner announced an AJGA 2020 event to address one of the strategic areas of golf – growing diversity. In addition to creating high-level tournament golf with a PGA TOUR player’s support, proceeds from the event will be used to sponsor ACE Grants for North Carolina junior golfers who aspire to earn a college golf scholarship.
“I’m just super excited … not to give someone the opportunity, but just to fight for somebody who needs that fight, because someone was fighting for me before I even knew there was a fight,” said Varner, who played college golf at East Carolina. “I was just playing golf.”
Since 1991, Digger Smith recipients Stephen Hamblin, Jim Nugent, Rolex and John Solheim have also supported ACE Grant endowments.