CLIFTON, NEW JERSEY | Twenty-one LPGA*USGA Girls Golf alums will compete at Upper Montclair Country Club this week, the most in the 12-year history of the Cognizant Founders Cup. University of Alabama alumna Lakareber Abe is among them. Abe is in the field as a sponsor invitee after winning The John Shippen Women's Shoot-Out presented by Cognizant.
The Cognizant Founders Cup raises money for the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf program. Since former LPGA commissioner Mike Whan created the event in 2011, it has generated an extraordinary sum for Girls Golf programs - more than $4 million in the past six years.
"I think originally we all thought he was crazy, but now it's blossomed into a beautiful event. We're very grateful for his vision," major champion and Girls Golf alumna Brittany Lincicome said of Whan and the original Founders Cup.
Girls Golf has seen a 1,800% increase in the last decade, from 4,500 girls engaged in 2010 to 90,000 girls in 2020.
"I think you're only going to see that going up. The numbers, they've doubled and tripled over the years. More girls are getting involved, turning pro or just playing golf," added Lincicome.
Abe said that growing up and being around many girls in sports is extremely important to curb the dropout rate.
"In any sport, having a lot of girls involved is how you stay engaged, and that's how you see the value in sports. When there are other people your age, your friends keep playing too because it's hard to stay in something if you don't have a good social circle," said Abe.
Over 80 LPGA and Epson Tour members started their golf journey at an LPGA*USGA Girls Golf site. The initiative to increase participation in women's golf began in 1989 by Sandy LaBauve, an LPGA Professional and mother of two daughters.
"If you look at junior, amateur and college golf, there's a lot more diversity, and I think the depth of women's golf has grown tremendously over the past few years. You'll continue to see that trend for years to come," Abe said.
Lincicome, a two-time major champion and soon-to-be mom of two, said she plans to have daughter Emery become a future Girls Golf member because golf teaches valuable life lessons.
Girls under the age of 16 are the fastest-growing segment of the golfing population, with 34% of current junior golfers are female. The Girls Golf organization focuses on providing an inclusive atmosphere for children aged 6-17 to play golf and supporting their professional development.
This week, Abe said she is excited to set a good example and show young girls that golf can be fun and should be enjoyed at every stage of competitiveness.
As Abe enters her first LPGA event, she serves as a role model for aspiring young Girls Golf members and expands the representation in the field.
"I've grown up playing junior golf, amateur golf, college golf, and you never really see more than one or two (Black women) at an event. I've been at events, and I'm the only Black woman," Abe said.
Twenty years ago, people of color only made up one out of 17 junior golfers. With the help of the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf program, that gap has closed to nearly one out of three.
The combined effort of the Cognizant Founders Cup and Girls Golf has paved the way for young girls from every background to participate in golf, developing them as young athletes and successful women on the course and beyond.
Brittany said watching any child hit a golf ball for the first time with a smile on their face is the most incredible feeling ever.
"Celebrating all these generations and just trying to leave the game better, I think we're doing a great job and it keeps growing every year, and more kids are getting involved. Especially girls, which is great whether it's a high school level, college level, or maybe they go on in business. It's a great way to entertain clients. You never know who you are going to meet on the golf course. I think it's really cool for kids to get involved with the game," said Lincicome.