The beautiful Mesquite golf courses aren’t just playgrounds for retired duffers. Thanks to the Virgin Valley to the Virgin Valley Junior Golf Association (VVJGA) a new batch of young golf enthusiasts tee off each summer. This season 85 girls and boys have participated in a series of nine lessons and are now playing weekly tournaments at the Palms, CasaBlanca, Falcon Ridge, Canyons, and Palmer golf courses through the end of July.
Tom Winchester, head golf pro for Mesquite Gaming, runs the junior program that flourishes as one of the top summer sports activities for local kids. Brian Wursten, Director of Golf for Mesquite Gaming, was instrumental in launching the program a number of years ago. VVJGA, administered by Winchester, Marsha Sherwood, and City Recreation Director Nick Montoya, is a well-run activity that welcomes school-age kids of all skill level.
A yearly membership in VVJGA costs $50. Winchester is quick to note that finances never keep kids from participating in the program because help can be found for those who need it. The fee pays for nine one-hour clinics, a series of tournaments, free putting practice and discounted rounds of golf throughout the year. A highlight of this year’s activities included a Glow in the Dark Challenge in which the junior golfer could bring
a parent to play night-time golf at the Palms Course, using glow-in-the-dark balls. The tournament season winds up August 10 with an awards banquet.
It is not unusual to see high school students signing in for the classes. Some of them, like Jeron Dalton, have chalked up 10 years of membership in the VVJGA. Jeron and fellow golfer Aiden Hall develop their skills in summer VVJGA clinics to improve their game for the Virgin Valley High School golf team. While the young golfers range in age from five to 18, they compete with their own age level to play from four to 18 holes of golf in tournaments. The teens play a full round of 18. Winchester proudly says several VVJGA kids have gone on to earn college golf scholarships.
The Mesquite courses actively support this “incubator” clinic that teaches game rules, skills, and game etiquette to boys and girls. Everyone at the courses support the kids and help teach them how to play and enjoy the game. As kids pile onto their carts, the course workers remind them to drink lots of water. Pro shop workers greet them with smiles and encouragement. Golf Instructors from the local courses give their time gratis to coach the kids. Their donated hours count toward the service hours they must complete to maintain their own Professional Golf Association membership. The golf courses clear their schedules to accommodate
VVJGA tournaments, hoping that someday they will see the same golfers teeing up for a game with their friends. VVJGA is a win for everybody.
Parents and grandparents bring their young golfers to sign in for the Tuesday tournament.
Many of them stay on to drive the golf carts for the younger players. Art Perieda, wearing a Vietnam Veteran hat, was as excited as his grandson, Uriah, to head out to the course where
Uriah would be playing six holes of golf with other competitors in the eight to ten year old division. Both are happy to have a sport they will enjoy together for many years.
Winchester’s own life experience evolved from coming to Mesquite with his parents to eventually staying on because he loved the sunshine and life style that golf has afforded him. He is an ardent promoter of the sport, not only for the love of the game, but for the lifelong lessons it can teach to all. This is an individual sport in which each player must take responsibility for his or her own performance.
Mastering the game—if one ever masters golf—requires self-reliance, composure, focus, training, and physical skills. It demands personal honesty. It promotes mature sportsmanship. It fosters socially aware behavior, which was very evident when nine-year-old Uriah extended his hand to greet this reporter who had approached him for a photo.
Winchester and the entire staff of the Mesquite Gaming golf courses hope to expand the number of participants in next summer’s VVJGA program. Marsha Sherwood, the CasaBlanca pro shop merchandiser, recounted how the recession caused a terrible slump in the program. She is excited that they have been able to bring back the numbers to near pre-recession
highs. Winchester is hoping to gain more business sponsorship in future years. Mesquite
Flooring and Tile sponsored the Glow in the Dark game this year, and with more sponsors the program can expand.
Winchester also hopes to provide a scholarship to a high school senior next year to help with the cost of higher education. He knows there are so many deserving kids out there who have learned to keep their eye on the ball with the help of VVJGA.