Nan Ryan, Executive Director of Pepsi Little People’s Golf Championships.

How did it happen that a city of 45,000 situated on the Mississippi River, with the only major airport 120 miles away, became host to one of the largest junior golf tournaments in the World? “Three things,” says Pepsi Little People’s Founder and Executive Director Nan Ryan, “and not necessarily in this order”.

“1. The hospitality of Quincy and the friendliness and support of the volunteers
“2. The organization and pro-like structure of the tournament
“3. High quality international competition for all ages
“And maybe 4. I lived in Quincy in 1973 when all of this started”.

The idea for a junior golf tournament in the Midwest began with an offhand statement by a newspaper reporter to Nan when she was playing in the Quincy Women’s City Golf Championships in 1973.

“It’s too bad there isn’t a junior tournament in the Midwest like the International in Florida,” he said.

Nan’s answer – “I think I’ll start one.”

Young competitor sinks a putt while playing at the KC Par-3 Golf Course in Quincy.

Actually, Quincy is an ideal location for a junior golf tournament. The people of Quincy love golf and golfers. Golf course architect D.A. Weibring, who played on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, grew up in Quincy. So did renowned Golf Course Superintendent Oscar Miles. And D.A. Points, winner of the 2011 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the 2013 Shell Houston Open, and Matt Weibring, who have played on both the Nationwide and PGA Tours, have roots in Quincy. And let us not forget Luke Guthrie, Quincyan and University of Illinois star golfer now competing on the Korn Ferry Tour.

Young Matt Weibring and Kathleen Ryan - the Little People's Logo.

Young Matt Weibring and Kathleen Ryan – the Little People’s Logo.

One of the first things Nan did was to find sponsors – Pepsi Cola Quincy Bottling Company (now Refreshment Services Pepsi) and Bergman Meat Packing of Pittsfield. Both had products that kids love – Pepsi and hot dogs. Pepsi has continued as the major and name sponsor since 1974. Bergman bowed out in 1982. In 2012, Titan International Inc. signed on as a co-title sponsor and the championship was re-named the Pepsi Titan Little People’s Golf Championships and Pepsi Titan LP Collegiate Golf Championships. Titan withdrew their sponsorship after the 2014 tournament, and the tournament is once again the PEPSI Little People’s Golf Championships.

Dad helps daughter get set to tee off on the first day on the first hole at the KC Par-3 Golf Course.

Nan’s daughter, Kathleen, now an Associate Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology at Berkeley, named the tournament at age 4. “It’s for Little People’s isn’t it?”, she said, “so why not call it Little People’s”.

The tournament logo features the silhouettes of Kathleen and D.A.’s son Matt Weibring, who competed in the tournament several years. Kathleen still holds the record of finishing in the top three places for nine consecutive years.

Starting in 1974, Spalding Golf contributed logoed golf balls for each contestant. That tradition has been carried on throughout the years with Top-Flite Golf, and now Callaway Golf making this generous donation.

Pepsi Little People’s started on the 9-hole Cedar Crest Country Club course in Quincy – a club where all the work was done by member volunteers.

“It was the ideal place to start,” remembers Nan, “because we wanted to give something back to the golfing community, particularly the high school golf teams.”

There were 174 players aged 3 through 15 that first year, 1974, coming from 13 states and Canada. Nan’s good friend, the late Marilynn Smith, a Co-Founder of the Ladies PGA and the LPGA Teaching Division, and former LPGA Tour player, attended the tournament, giving a golf clinic and talking and playing with the contestants.

This Welcome Sign greets all golfers and their families at both Westview and the KC Par-3 Golf Courses.

It became apparent in 1975 that another course needed to be added, so the 27 holes at Westview Golf Course were brought into play. The tournament soon outgrew that 36 holes, and more courses were added, until in 2010, six golf course (99 holes) in Quincy and three neighboring cities, were used to accommodate the players aged 3 through 22. In 2023, two Quincy courses will again host the golfers aged 3 through 18.

Pepsi Little People’s is one of the largest junior golf tournaments in the World, and is the oldest continuous running event with a 3-5 year-old division. The age limit was increased to 17 in 1986, to 19 in 2007, to 21 in 2008 and to 22 in 2013 and 2014. The Collegiate Division was dropped for the 2015 event but the 16-17 age division was increased to include 18 year olds.

Tournament Director Nan Ryan talks with young Saachi Kandula about winning his 3-B (8-9) Division at Little People’s.

Good sportsmanship, rather than winning as the ultimate goal, is of utmost importance at Little People’s. Poor sportsmanship among players or their parents is not tolerated. In honor of sportsmanship, awards are given annually to the boy and girl displaying this trait during the tournament.

Family togetherness is one of the focuses of the tournament, so one of the highlights is the annual Family Celebration Picnic held on Monday night following the official practice rounds. Several PGA and LPGA professionals have been a part of this event, including D.A. Weibring, Dicky Pride, Jerry Haas, Marilynn Smith and Libby Pancake. In 2010, Sarah Brown, a former Little People’s player, and her caddie/coach/father Keith, attended the tournament and both spoke at the Picnic.  Britt Pavelonis, who won his 3-5 age Division at the first Little People’s in 1974, attended the 2016 tournament, talking with players and parents, and giving a short speech at the clinic.  In 2023, the Picnic will be co-sponsored by Refreshment Services Pepsi, Hy-Vee of Quincy, WGEM and See Quincy, and will be FREE for all players, families, volunteers  and guests.

Former Little People’s Britt Pavelonis tells the families at the Picnic about his career since winning the 3-5 age Division in 1974, and encourages the young people to follow their dreams.

Another family affair is the Applebee’s Parent-Child tournament, annually held on the Sunday prior to the start of the tournament (Father’s Day) each year. Some 50 teams compete in this event each year, which is the official ‘kick off’ to Little People’s Golf Week. Trophies go to the top three places in six divisions (three for boys and three for girls) and are awarded at the Monday night Picnic. An Alumni-Child division has been added in recent years, along with the Applebee’s Driving Contest, Applebee’s Putting Contest and Applebee’s Best Dressed Contest.  Applebee’s also conducts a Closest to the Pin contest on the 9th hole at Westview during Monday’s practice round.

Jeff and Lisa Copeland prepare to tee off in the annual Applebee’s Parent-Child event on Father’s Day prior to the start of Little People’s.

Jeff and Lisa Copeland prepare
to tee off in the annual
Applebee’s Parent-Child event
on Father’s Day prior to the
start of Little People’s.

For many years, the International Team Events were played on Thursday, rounding out Little People’s Week. These events were dropped after rain washed out the second day of competition in 2015, and the golf course was deemed unplayable for several days.

The Pepsi Little People’s Golf Championships officially starts on Monday, with official practice rounds, followed by competition at all courses on Tuesday and Wednesday. The tournament annually draws hundreds of players from all over the World to compete in Quincy. A record 922 players entered in 2000.

Applebee’s gave out snacks and drinks at the 9th tee as players prepare to try the Applebee’s Closest to the Pin Contest.

There are seven age divisions for boys and seven for girls in Pepsi Little People’s (3-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15, and 16-18).

In 2020, due to Covid-19, the tournament was changed to a Virtual event.  Players were given a week to play their two rounds at the course of their choice.  Scores were equalized using a formula based on  USGA and WHS calculations.  A total of 113 players registered for the Virtual Little People’s, coming from 22 states, the Bahamas, Bermuda, British Columbia, Ontario and Latvia.  101 completed play.

Every player received a ‘goodie bag’ containing a personalized Virtual Little People’s bag tag and a mask, a package of decals from Golfdotz, a gift certificate from Garb, and various other certificates.  Every winner received a $50 Gift Certificate from Garb.  All winners, 2nd and 3rd place finishers, received a medal.  All non-medal winners aged 3 through 8 received a participant medal.

The 2021 and 2022 Little People’s events were  held as normal at Westview Golf Course and KC Par-3 in Quincy, and plans are for the 2023 Pepsi Little People’s to be held June 19-21, our 50th annual event, at these same two courses.

In 2023, the 3-5 boys and girls will play five par-3 holes daily at the Knights of Columbus Par-3 in Quincy, with the 6-7 boys and girls playing all nine par-3 holes daily. Competition for ALL players aged 8 through 18 will take place at Westview Golf Course in Quincy. The 8-9 boys and girls will play nine shortened holes, the 10-11 groups will play 18 holes from the forward tees, and all other divisions will play 18 regulation holes daily.

Numerous PGA and LPGA Tour players made their golfing debuts in Pepsi Little People’s. Most noted are Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland, winner of 23 PGA Tour events and the 2014 British Open, who played as a 12 and 13-year old,  Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters Champion and 2015 British Open winner, who played in Little People’s in 1992 and 1993, and Scottie Scheffler, winner of four 2022 events, including the Masters.

One-armed golfer 5-yearold Tommy Morrissey, and his father Joe, presented an inspiring clinic for families during the 2016 Pepsi Little People’s.

One-armed golfer 5-yearold
Tommy Morrissey, and
his father Joe, presented an
inspiring clinic for families
during the 2016 Pepsi Little

Ben Curtis, winner of the 2003 British Open and 2006 Booz Allen Classic, and Todd Hamilton, winner of the 2004 Honda Classic and 2004 British Open, also started their golfing careers in Quincy. Peter Uihlein, a member of the victorious 2009 U.S. Walker Cup team, winner of the 2010 U.S. Amateur and 2013 European Rookie of the Year, won his 12-13 division at Little People’s in 2003. Other notables include Jordan Niebrugge, a member of the 2013 Walker Cup team and winner of the 2013 US Amateur Public Links, Wisconsin State Amateur and Western Amateur, and low amateur and Silver Medal winner in the 2015 British Open, Jerry Smith, who played in the first Little People’s in 1974 and won the 2015 Encompass Championship on the Champions Tour, Scottie Scheffler, Adam Schenk, Adam Long, Luke Guthrie, D.A. Points, Chris Smith, Ty Tryon, Amanda Blumenhurst, Ginger Howard, Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, Alena Sharp, and Kelly Robbins. Each week some 15-25 former Little People’s players compete somewhere in the world in a professional golf event.

Looking sharp, as he prepares to putt in the 2016 Pepsi Little People’s Golf Championships.

Many more Little People’s alumni are now involved in golf in some way, including Jerry Haas, Emlyn Aubrey, Don Walsworth, Dicky Pride, Nicky Goetze, Nicole Hage, Megan McChrystal, Beth Bauer, Pearl Sinn, Michelle McGann, Laura Myerscough, Jenny Lidback, Jasmine Suwannapura, Alena Sharp, Emma Talley,  LaRee Sugg, Renee Heiken, Penny Hammel, Susie Pager Redmon, Kristal Parker- Gregory, Adele Moore, Allison Sellers, Patti Ehrhart, Meredith Ward and Val Brennan, just to mention a few. Several former contestants have won Compaq Scholastic Awards and been named Rolex winners by the AJGA. Many are Sagarin ranked players.

Each year, many International players come to Quincy to compete in Little People’s. Over the past 49 years, every state and some 36 foreign countries have been represented, with many winning their division.

Pepsi Little People’s has been a part of the AJGA Tour’s ranked tournament program since 1987, and has been included in the AJGA Performance Based Entry system for boys/girls 14-18 and 12-13 age divisions. It is a ranked tournament for the Junior Golf Scoreboard for boys and girls 10-18, the GolfWeek/Sagarin Junior Rankings, the Global Junior Golf Rankings, and is a qualifier for the IMG Academy Junior World Golf Championships,  Future Champions Golf, and Notah Begay Regional.    Division winners also receive an invitation to play in one of the PLAY Junior Golf Tour events in Canada.  

Signing your scorecard is an important part of competing in a major junior golf tournament such as Pepsi Little People’s.

Trophies and medals are awarded to the top finishers in all divisions, with non-trophy winners in each of the youngest three divisions receiving a participant award. Prior to 2008, scholarships in the amount of $400 for the winner and $200 for the runnerup, were awarded in each division.

Who is tallest?

Because of USGA and NCAA regulations, that program was cancelled, and a Little People’s Scholarship Program has been initiated to help bring players to Little People’s based on family financial need. In addition, the  Maureen J. Garrity Scholarship for Women is also now available. (See Scholarships)

Each year, the Little People’s entry form asks for a letter from contestants stating their golf history, academic and athletic interests, and family involvement in sports. The letters that are written by the contestants are judged by a special committee, and from these the Best Letters are determined. The awards are presented to the winners at the Picnic on Monday night.

Some of the families enjoying the festivities at the annual Family Celebration Picnic on Monday night.

A testimony to the popularity of Pepsi Little People’s, in addition to the number of players it draws each
year, is the fact that at least half of the entries each year are returning players. Some return for one to three years or more, while others play as long as they can. 

Making that first drive…

Making that first drive…

In 1995, Mike Suhre of Edwardsville, IL, now a golf professional, became the first player to compete in 15 consecutive Little People’s. He was followed in 1997 by two Quincyans, Jason Traeder and Todd Rodemich, and in 2004 by Tyler Dickens of Quincy.  Griffin Steer competed in his 15th consecutive Little People’s in 2016, and  set a new record of 16 consecutive events when he competed in 2017 as an 18-year-old.

It is not unusual to have several players from the same family. There are many ‘threesomes’ and ‘foursomes’, and for several years, Rick Castellucci arrived with his five daughters, all playing in the tournament.

A TV moment for young player.

A TV moment for young player.

Given that the players in the 14-15 division that first year are now over 50, it is not surprising that there are many players whose parents competed in Little People’s. Most notable of these families are the Akers sisters, Libby and Kelli, who both played during the early years. All four of Libby and her husband Tony Pancake’s children have played in Little People’s, as have the three children of Kelli and her husband Patrick Matthews. Mike Suhre, the first player to compete in 15 consecutive Little People’s events, brought his two boys, Drew and Ryan, to Little People’s in 2012, and returned in 2014 with his boys and daughter.  Brad Zeitner, who competed in the first four Little People’s, brought his son Bennett to compete for many years.

Winners in the Girls 5-G (12-13) age division receive their trophies and medals at completion of play.

Good sportsmanship is displayed by this threesome of boys as they complete their round in the 2016 Pepsi Little People’s Golf Championships.

In keeping with its mission of helping young people, three other programs are also under the tournament’s “Kids Helping Kids” umbrella. They include the Tri-State Junior Golf Tour, which runs eight to 10 one-day events in the Illinois-Iowa-Missouri area each summer for kids who need more experience in tournament play; the Little People’s Scholarship Programs, which offers scholarships to young players based on family need and a complete profile including civic activities, and the Maureen J. Garrity Scholarship for Women, and Little People’s Charitable Program, in which part of the proceeds from the tournament go to local and national charitable organizations involving young people. New in 2019 was the Maureen J. Garrity Scholarship for Women, established in honor of long-time volunteer Maureen Garrity to help support the education of young women playing in the Pepsi Little People’s.  Two young women received scholarships in 2019,  three in 2020 and three in 2021.

The primary recipient of the charitable program is now Transitions of Western Illinois, which provides special services for emotionally and physically challenged young people and families. For many years, Little People’s donated money and scholarships to The First Tee of Great River, which disbanded in 2012. Since its inception, Pepsi Little People’s has donated more than $290,000 to charitable organizations and scholarships through its “Kids Helping Kids” program.

As with any event of this size, volunteers help to make the tournament possible. Some 150 men and women donate their time and support to the tournament, some of them working on projects throughout the year, while others focus on helping during Pepsi Little People’s Golf Week.

James Imai, winner of the Boys 6-B (14-15) age division, displays his trophy, Garb cap and flag at the prize presentation, as the other trophy and medal winners look on.

In 2001, a Volunteer-of-the-Year Award was established to honor the Little People’s volunteer(s) making the most contributions to the success of the tournament. The first award went to the Kroeger family, Vicki, Julie, Katrina and Brian, and the trophy was appropriately named the Kroeger Trophy. At that time, the four Kroegers had devoted a cumulative 56 years of volunteer work towards the tournament. In 2016, the winner was Teresa Huner, who literally brought Little People’s into the Social Media world and continues to  work on its Facebook and Twitter pages.  Maureen Garrity won the coveted award in 2017, while Mike and Tracy Lawrence received the award in 2018 and Judy Wilper and Mary Griffith won in 2019.  Ruth Moser, who made it possible to calculate the scores for the Virtual Little People’s, was the Volunteer winner in 2020.  “Without her expertise, we couldn’t have had the Virtual event,” said Nan Ryan, Little People’s Executive Director.  The 2021 Volunteer Award went to ALL of the volunteers who helped to make the 2021 Little People’s successful, while Tournament Director Lynn Blevins won the coveted award in 2020.

Little People’s has been the recipient of several awards and much publicity in past years. In 1995, Nan received the LPGA/Budget Service Award at a banquet in New York. The award, which included a $5000 donation to Little People’s, made by Budget Rent-a-Car and the Ladies Professional Golf Association, is awarded to the person who has made outstanding contributions to junior golf.

Tournament Director Nan Ryan congratulates Emma Greenberg on her victory in the Girls 1-G (3-5) age Division, and second place winner Sarah Scott.

In May of 1997, Nan received the Golf Digest Junior Development Award for an individual, and the tournament was honored by Golf Digest Magazine. Topsy Siderowf, GD Associate Editor, attended the 1997 event and presented the award at the Picnic.

“Throughout the past 49 years, Little People’s has seen some 24,000 players and more than twice as many parents and families,” says Ryan. “Each has become special to us, and we are thrilled to read about each of our alumni in the media today, doing whatever it is they love to do.”

“Little People’s got off to a great start in 1974,” continues Nan. “A combination of enthusiastic people with good ideas, strong community support, and plain good luck, has made it successful throughout the years. It looks like Little People’s is here to stay. We’ve had a lot of good bounces.”