November 2020

Changing the Game: Teeing off for the very first time this November, the Elite Invitational aims to welcome the next generation of golfers to the pros.

Author: Barry Kaufman

Mason Carmel is not your typical golf instructor. That’s not to say in any way that he isn’t an effective golf instructor. Far from it. It’s just that there’s a maverick streak in him that urges him to zig when others zag.
Entering the 2014-2015 school year as the No. 1-ranked player in the mid-Atlantic region, he eschewed his junior year at Virginia’s Longwood University to turn pro. Following a pair of shoulder surgeries, he realized he had more to give to the game. He pivoted to teaching, developing his own system for leading the next generation.

“That’s something I’ve had to overcome … people telling me, ‘you don’t teach a certain way,’” he said. “I’m not a system player. But my success and my students’ success have spoken for themselves.”

That independent and headstrong outlook has made him one of the most exciting instructors on Hilton Head Island, a place known to house the cream of the crop. Carmel is an independent pro at Palmetto Hall and he’s helped place 17 kids in Division 1 schools.

And he’s done it all his way. But that’s just how Carmel does things. So, when he says he’s going to launch a youth golf tournament that will change the game, you pay attention. “From the beginning, people said we wouldn’t get any players in,” he said. “And now we have a waitlist of over 600, with somewhere around 11,000 applications.”

The Elite Invitational, when it tees off Nov. 13-15 at Palmetto Dunes’ Arthur Hills Course, will represent the realization of a vision Carmel had two years ago. With some of the world’s finest junior golfers representing 27 states and three countries, this incredibly strong field of high school-age players will not just compete across 54 holes for the top spot; they’ll get their first taste of an actual professional tournament.

“These kids are all nationally ranked, so the big thing I wanted to do with this tournament is to give them a platform similar to what they’d see on the PGA or LPGA tour,” Camel said. Much like the real thing, The Elite Invitational will fete its players with first-class amenities and will offer the same thrill of competition through live scoring and streaming of the event worldwide through Junior Golf Live.

“They’re playing a tournament structured like a high-level PGA tournament would be,” Carmel said. “Mark Mazzo, a PGA TOUR caddy, is coming down to hand-sketch the course and do yardage books…. It’s as good as it gets in terms of details.”

In terms of venue, you won’t find one better suited for Carmel’s vision than the Arthur Hills Course in Palmetto Dunes. “I picked that because of its history,” he said. “In addition to the 1990 women’s NCAA Championship, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and John Daly all played this course. These kids will be playing in the footsteps of legends of the game.”

And in giving young players the chance to follow in their heroes’ footsteps, Carmel hopes the Elite Invitational will serve as a springboard toward them forging their own path. “A lot of them will have an opportunity and platform to give back and use this tournament as a way to influence the next generation and the communities they live in,” he said.

Leading by example, Carmel isn’t just using this new tournament as a way to give young players a glimpse of life on the PGA TOUR. He’s using it as an opportunity to give back.

“What’s unique is that these kids will be playing for more than just a trophy,” he said. Along with partners ranging from First Tee to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Carmel says that players will have the chance to choose a charity they will represent, playing to raise funds. “All money will be donated on behalf of our players,” he said. “The golf industry is very systematic. Things run for collecting a paycheck. We’re not taking one dollar out of this.”

It’s a bold move, but then that seems to be Carmel’s stock in trade. It’s not always the safe shot, but it’s the shot he takes to elevate young golfers. And so far, the results have spoken for themselves.
“Bettering these kids’ lives is what I’m all about,” Camel said.

The Elite Invitational runs Nov. 13-15 with a special Pro/Am Tournament scheduled for Nov. 11. For more information, visit theeliteinvitational.com.

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