OFF THE TEE: PGA Junior League program held at Belmont Hills CC
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The PGA is consistently looking for ways to grow the game of golf.
One of its newer initiatives has been implemented at Belmont Hills Country Club and met with resounding success.
Belmont Hills Club Professional Ron Baker began the PGA Junior League program in 2018 and this year’s just wrapped up late last month with significantly increased numbers.
“We had 67 kids take part,” Baker said. “Kids were from St. Clairsville, Union Local, Barnesville and Martins Ferry mostly.”
Prior to the junior league program, Baker hosted a junior camp for aspiring area golfers.
“We just decided to try to get involved with the PGA and it’s been very, very successful,” Baker confessed. “The PGA has really had a lot of success, nationwide, with this program.”
This program is also held at Oglebay Park, but according to Baker, it has just one team and travels to the Pittsburgh area for its matches.
The Belmont Hills program was met with such popularity that all of the matches were contested on the challenging layout in St. Clairsville.
“We’re fortunate to have the number of kids that we do, so we play everything right here,” Baker said. “We only play our teams.
The players were broken down in four teams, which were named Golden Cubs, Bunker Bandits, Mighty Eagles and mini Mickelsons.
“The kids could name the team whatever they wanted,” Baker said. “We just tried to make it fun for them.”
The format is a bit different than most adult golfers are accustomed. The teams are divided into mini teams and then they play three mini matches within 9 holes. Every three holes is worth “a flag” or a point.
The mini teams include three players and two are playing on a hole at a time, while the third player is “helping out.” He or she will help locate golf balls, tend the pin, help reading of the green, implementing rules, etc., and then will substitute in for the next hole.
“Usually, the really young kids play three or six holes, while the older kids are playing the entire nine holes,” Baker said.
Each team is assigned a coach. Jaren Straughn led the Bandits, while Jacob Jeffries oversaw the Mighty Eagles, Brendan Vucelich guided the Golden Cubs and Evan Archer coached the Mini Mickelsons.
“It’s team oriented just like little league baseball or softball,” Baker said. “Each kid gets a shirt and it has a number on the back. The gist of the team format is when you’re seven or eight years old, standing on the tee at a 300-plus yard hole can be intimidating. So, they’re paired up with older kids, who can help them and teach them during the match.”
Practices for the league began in early June with the first of six matches slated for later that month. Those continued throughout July and culminated on July 29 when the Golden Cubs won the league title with a 4-1-1 record. They suffered their lone loss to Mickelsons and tied with the Bandits.
Once league play concluded, the coaches and Baker selected an all-star team, which went to Columbus for an event. Each of the four teams had at least one representative and none of the four regular season teams could have more than five players take part on the all-star team.
“We didn’t advance, but our kids played decently and we finished in the middle of the pack,” Baker said.
The all-star team was comprised of Andrew Abel, Ashton Glover, Olivia Baker, Hayden Treadway, Julian Kingery, Ethan Kingery, Evan Baker, Nash Roberts, Ryan Mooney and Kamden Kinyo.
Baker said the all-star finals will be shown on the Golf Channel later this summer.
Overall, Baker was very happy with how the league played out in terms of the improvement and dedication shown by all of the players who took part.
“We most definitely saw the kids improve,” Baker said. “I was impresssed with how well the older kids helped mentor the younger ones. While it’s competitive and kids wanted to win, it’s still about instruction and learning.”
The entire Bunker Bandits team consisted of Evan Baker, Matthew Brown, Julian Kingery, Nash Roberts, Vincent Demarchi, Jackson Conaway, Anthony Mamone, Teddy Steele, Max Zido, Helen Steele, Ethan Kingery, Dominic Scarnecchia, Alex Norman, Brady Kerr and Von Krall.
The Mighty Eagles consisted of Evan Zido, Logan Hess, Olivia Baker, Delaney Butler, Ella Pietranton, Ramsey Butler, Elizabeth Steele, Maddie Steele, Owen O’Connell, Camden Judge, Sawyer Saho, Hayden Treadway, Carsyn Crooks and Vincent Evou.
The Golden Cubs included Ashton Glover, Mason Smith, Michael Brown, Ryan Mooney, Beau Mooney, Aaron Baker, Graham Spence, Lauren Moran, Kamden Kinyo, Sophia Turner, Ethan Turner, Jackson Dutton, Brady Gallagher, Aliana Toplovich and George Dormas.
The Mini Mickelsons included Andrew Abel, Evan Fix, Nick Hellman, Phillip Zapp, David Bittengle, Jonah Hepburn, Owen Hepburn, Dylan Pielech, Drew Patton, Dylan Davenport, Charlie Gooch, Liam Bendel, Mason DelGuzzo and Luke Stack.
Ella Pietranton, who has taken part in both years of the program and a seventh grader to be at Union Local, indicated she’s definitely seen improvement in her game because of the program.
“My golf game improved with the help from Ron and my coach, Jacob (Jeffries), Pietranton said. “I think I got much better at chipping and putting this year. I am working with Ron to fix my drives because I keep hitting the ball to the right.”
Pietranton, who is the daughter of Dominic and Crystal Pietranton, admitted that playing golf is “much harder” than she thought.
“I am better at the other I sports I play, but some of my friends, classmates and my cousin plays in the (golf) league, so it was fun to hang out and play with them during the matches.”
The program, which is open to the public, regardless of BHCC membership, will return for a third year in 2020.
The Belmont Mountaineer Athletic Club held its 24th annual BMAC Golf Classic late last month with a full field of 72 golfers taking part.
Winning the open division with a score of 13-under was the foursome of Ed Zwolensky, Lois Zwolensky, Patty Maroney and Corky Gehrig.
The corporate division champions was a repeat winner — by virtue of a scorecard playoff. The team of Sam Croft, Ron Helms, Jesse Stillmak and Tom Stillmark posted a 9-under, while representing Croft and Son Manufacturing.
Finishing third with a 9-under was the team of Dan Dunmeyer, Penn Kurtz, Bobby Clark and Neal Aulick, representing OVMC/EORH.
The individual skill prizes went to Ron Helms (longest drive), Bob Cain (closest to the pin) and Robert Brigg (longest putt).
The Belmont Savings Bank Chamber Challenge putting contest was won by Main Street Bank, captained by Bob Furka. A putt to within 10 inches by Bo McGonnaughy was the difference.
The BMAC expressed its appreciation to Belmont Savings CEO Todd Cover for sponsoring as well as the director of area chambers — Wendy Anderson (St. Clairsville), Scott Reger (Marshall County) and Erikka Storch (Wheeling), who oversaw the competition.
Currently, WVU senior basketball player Chase Harler is the recipient of the BMAC scholarship. He’s actually the first, four-time recipient of the award. The WVU financial aid office will appoint the seventh overall recipient next year.
HARRISON CENTRAL’S Sam Santille produced an ace during the a tournament in New Philadelphia last Wednesday. Santille used a 52 degree gap wedge on the 143-yard, 8th hole at Union Country Club in Dover.