Youth on Course leads to Augusta National for Max Soterakopoulos 

WA Golf’s Youth on Course program has allowed Max and his sister Helaina to nurture their enjoyment of the game. Both of them have gone on to compete in Washington Junior Golf Association events as well as national events.

Young Max started playing golf at age five. “It was at the start of COVID (in early 2020),” said Chris Soterakopoulos, Max’s dad. “We needed to find something for our kids to do.” So he and his wife Jayne took their three kids – Helaina, Max and Atticus – to the driving range near their Everett, Wash. home.

“My wife and I are not golfers,” Chris said. “But at the time, golf was considered a ‘safe’ activity, so we wanted the kids to give it a try.”

A natural lefthander, Max initially tried to hit balls with right-handed clubs, but couldn’t get the hang of it. “Once I got him a set of left-handed clubs, his swing was smooth from the start,” Chris says.

Max and Helaina took to the game right away, while Atticus, who was just one year old at the time, is now starting to catch on.

Chris saw the interest they had for the game and felt this was something he wanted to encourage in them. He began researching various junior golf activities throughout the area, and came across the WA Golf Youth on Course program, which enables kids age 6-18 to play rounds of golf for just five dollars at participating courses.

Learn more about the WA Golf Youth on Course program.

“We signed them up for the Youth on Course program right away,” Chris says. “The main reason is that it made the game affordable for us as a family. It made it possible for us to keep doing it.”

Max won the regional 7-9 division qualifier at Chambers Bay.

After playing the game only one year, Max competed in the 2021 U.S. Kids Golf World Championship, finishing 14th. He then competed in that championship in 2022 and 2023, and also competes in Washington Junior Golf Association tournaments. Helaina, now 11 years old, also competes in WJGA tournaments. Both kids play four and five times a week.

Max, now nine years old and in the third grade, had entered the qualifiers for the Drive, Chip and Putt competition starting at age six. Last year, in his third attempt, he made it through local and subregional qualifying, and at the regional qualifying held on September 23, 2023, at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., he won the Boys 7-9 division and earned a spot in the 10th annual Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, to be held at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2024, prior to the start of the 88th Masters Tournament.

Conducted in partnership with the USGA, the Masters Tournament and the PGA of America, Drive, Chip and Putt is a free, nationwide youth golf development program open to boys and girls, ages 7-15, in four age divisions. The three-pronged competition tests the skills essential to playing the game – accuracy in driving, chipping and putting.

Although initially a non-golfing family, WA Golf’s Youth on Course program has turned the three Soterakopoulos kids into golfers. Parents Jayne and Chris (who still don’t play), along with Helaina (11), Atticus (5), and Max (9).

“Everyone’s pretty excited,” Chris said. “The whole family is going to Augusta. They gave us eight tickets, plus a ticket for Max and I, and we’ll be able to watch the practice round at the Masters.”

Chris’ kids play most of their golf at the Legion Memorial and Walter Hall golf courses in Everett. When Max was six, he became the youngest to ever shoot a hole-in-one at Legion Memorial, doing so on the par-3 14th, using a 6-iron. (And, by chance, it was caught on video.)

Even now, when he takes them to the golf course, Chris still doesn’t play. “I’ll walk the course with them or follow them around in the cart during their round,” he says. “Watch their practice rounds, things like that. It’s a great way to spend time with them, while still letting them do what they like to do on their own.”

And who knows where it will lead.

  • Tom Cade, Editor