Rose Park Golf Course in Salt Lake City and Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., have more in common than you might think. Tony Finau, rising star on the PGA Tour, who competed in his first Masters Tournament in April, grew up playing and practicing at Rose Park. There is also a special link for Berlin and Aaydn Long, Cooper Jones, and Victory Romney, the four Utah junior golfers who have made it to Augusta National through the Utah Section PGA’s Drive, Chip and Putt qualifiers, including those hosted at the historic Utah course.
On Thursday, June 14, 24 other junior golfers from Utah competed in a local Drive, Chip and Putt qualifier at Rose Park and qualified for the next step.
“Rose Park has been awesome,” Utah Section PGA Executive Director Devin Dehlin said.“Especially allowing us to use the first and second hole. The courses seem to like having us come back each year. It’s a lot of fun and great exposure for them as well with so many families and kids that play.
“I like that there is such a variety of kids that come and play,” Dehlin continued. “We have kids that maybe have touched a club once, and we have kids out playing on the junior tours every week. I love seeing so many families participate. Everybody’s around them on the tee; there’s a lot of excitement.”
Whether participants are there to compete or simply get involved in the game, Drive, Chip and Putt offers nine shots for a chance to have an opportunity of a lifetime: competing in the National Finals at Augusta National the Sunday before the Masters. But the mission of this junior golf program represents so much more – providing children a platform to learn and enjoy the game.
“We just like golf,” Julie Noetzelman said, mother and grandmother to six participating juniors at Rose Park. “I like it cause everybody, no matter what their capability or their handicaps, can play; doesn’t matter who you are, everybody is welcome. It makes the kids feel like they can do it. It’s something all kids can be involved in.”
There’s a rich history of golf in Utah with a few family names that golf fans may be familiar with, such as Miller and Casper, to name a couple. Golf runs deep in these families. Linkon Casper, great grandson of 1970 Masters champion Billy Casper, participated in his first Drive, Chip and Putt at Rose Park and Nicklaus Miller, grandson of U.S. Open champion Johnny Miller competed at Rose Park.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for kids to get exposed to competing,” said Ashton Casper, Linkon’s father. “It gives them a chance that wasn’t around when I was a kid playing junior golf; being able to go to Augusta and be part of the spectacle that is the greatest stage in golf.
“We’ve been fortunate to experience some pretty cool things thanks to my grandpa. Linkon has a pretty special connection with my grandpa. He passed away a couple years ago but they were pretty close. Every time we go to my grandma’s house she gives him a little memento from my grandpa. His goal is to win a Green Jacket like his grandpa.”
The Casper family uses golf for quality time, “It’s been great for us enjoying what I did with my grandpa and dad, spending time on the golf course.”
Emma Smith took second place overall in the Girls 12-13 division. “Yeah, I love it so much,” she said about the possibility of going to Augusta National. “It’s crazy to think that I worked up to this.
“When I’m playing golf on my own I’m trying to earn a spot in Drive, Chip and Putt,” Smith explained. “Last year I made it to third place (in local qualifying), so I’m moving up. It just helps me build my confidence about golf.”
Drive, Chip and Putt participants have nine shots in each qualifier. Whether they make it to Augusta National, spend quality time with family or are playing to build confidence, those nine shots give players more experience – and fun – to connect them with a game they can love for a lifetime.