Washington junior golfers heading to local courses

The addition of Wine Valley makes Walla Walla a prime location for the three-course WJGA tournament.

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WALLA WALLA - It takes three conventional-length golf courses to adequately host the Washington Junior Golf Association State Championships, which explains why Walla Walla has never served as the tournament site.

Because up until a couple of years ago, Walla Walla was a two-course town: The private Walla Walla Country Club and the public Veterans Memorial Golf Course.

But in April of 2009, the Wine Valley Golf Course - a spectacular 18-hole links layout that has drawn rave reviews and is recognized as one of the best new golf courses in the country - opened for business a few miles west of town, providing the Walla Walla area with that crucial third course.

And this week, the WJGA will come to town to hold its 35th annual state tournament. Play commences Wednesday on all three courses and concludes Friday at the country club.

A field of 252 of the state's best junior players are entered in four age divisions each for boys and girls. The players represent six districts throughout the state, and state qualifiers were determined during six district tournaments that were contested last week.

The countdown actually began several weeks ago when each district held a series of four sub-district tournaments that served as qualifiers for district play. In all, the WJGA membership is in excess of 1,100 golfers ranging in age from 8 to 17 based on June 1 birthdays.

The age divisions are 16-to-17, 14-to-15, 12-to-13 and 8-to-11. There are 63 boys and 24 girls entered in the 16-17 groups, 60 boys and 21 girls in the 14-15 divisions, 30 boys and 12 girls in the 12-13 brackets and 30 boys and 12 girls in the 8-11 divisions.

The three oldest groups will play 18 holes each Wednesday and

Thursday, with those surviving the 36-hole cut - roughly one-third of each field - advancing to Friday's final round. In the 8-11 divisions, players will compete over nine holes Wednesday and nine Thursday,

with an 18-hole final round slated Friday for those who make the cut.

The first tee times each day at each course are scheduled for 7:30 a.m. off both the front and back nines. The courses are scheduled to re-open to non-tournament play shortly after 2 p.m. each day.

The 16-17 boys and the 14-15 girls will play at Wine Valley on Wednesday while the 16-17 girls and 14-15 boys will shoot it out at the country club. Those four groups will switch courses for Thursday's play.

Memorial will serve as the host course for the two younger groups both Wednesday and Thursday, with the 8-11 groups playing off the back nine only.

In all, there will be 84 players on each course each of the first two days. They are scheduled to play in threesomes.

"They are all expected to play 18 holes in four hours," said tournament director Carol Morgan. "We will see if that happens."

Friday's final rounds of play for all age groups are scheduled at the country club, with an awards ceremony to follow. The boy and girl with the best 54-hole score from the 16-17 and 14-15 age groups combined will be crowned the 2011 state champions.

Neither defending champion is entered this year.

Dominick Francks of Olympia can't attend because he will be representing the state of Washington in the Junior America's Cup. Kimberley Santiago of Lynnwood has a family conflict.

District 4, which includes Walla Walla, is easily the largest district in the state geographically, encompassing all of Eastern Washington other than the Spokane area, which is District 5. The other four districts are all on the west side of the state.

Despite is geographic size, District 4 membership is the smallest of the six, therefore it will have the fewest number of entries in the tournament.

There are three Walla Walla golfers among the 32 qualifiers from District 4. They are Nick Atwood in the boys 14-15 division, Jessica Huntsman in the girls 14-15 group and Emily Baumgart in the girls 12-13 division.

Two other local players, Ryan Baumgart in the boys 16-17 division and Scott Kimball in the boys 12-13 division, were named as state alternates at the conclusion of district play.

Each of the three courses has set aside times for practice rounds, which actually began on Friday and will continue through Tuesday. Each player can schedule one practice round on each of the courses he or she will play during the tournament.

At the country club, there are no practice rounds available today, but players can schedule their practice rounds Monday from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 3 to 5 p.m., and from 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesday. At Wine Valley, practice rounds can be reserved after 2 p.m. today and all day Monday and Tuesday. And at Vets, practice rounds can be scheduled whenever tee times are available.

The three days of tournament play are open to the public and free of charge. Anyone planning to attend should contact the respective clubs for dress code requirements.

There will be several satellite events held in conjunction with the golf tournament, including a long-drive contest Monday and a horse race Tuesday. The long-drive competition will be held Monday at the country club beginning at 4 p.m The horse race is slated Tuesday at Memorial for 8-to-11-year-olds only and begins at 3 p.m.

"We are expecting a lot of participation in both events," Morgan said.

"Walla Walla is so different because we are more isolated," she explained. "The kids are here. They are not going to be going home for the evening. I think we are going to see a lot of participation because of that."

The WJGA's annual tournament banquet will be held following Wednesday's opening-round of play and is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. in the community center building on the Walla Walla Fairgrounds. More than 600 are expected to attend, including players, their families and WJGA officials.

The highlight of the banquet will be the presentation of the annual Joan Teats Awards that go to a player in each district selected by his or her peers as the one who best exemplifies what a golfer should be.

Teats is one of the founders of the WJGA and she will be in attendance.

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