ST. GEORGE — Nine-year-old Jace Fillmore hopped into the passenger side of the golf cart he shared with his dad sporting a grin as wide as his face, his enthusiasm evident on his slight frame. “Now this is fun!”
Fillmore, with dad Ryan, had just parred the ninth hole at Sunbrook Golf Club and he was looking forward to the ride up the hill in the golf cart. But the “fun” Jace was referring to was the parent-youth JAG Tournament, not the cart ride.
“These kids, the big smiles on their faces when they come in after a round of golf with their dads or moms, that’s a happiness that is genuine and can’t be feigned,” said Sunbrook professional Reed McArthur. “I don’t think they even care what their scores are. They’re just out on the golf course having a great time.”
Jace and Ryan Fillmore ended up winning the Thursday evening tournament on a tiebreaker with a 33 for nine holes. But to a man (or woman or child), everyone was talking about the experience of playing with their loved ones.
“You get to spend a couple of hours with your kid one on one,” said radio personality Devin Dixon, who was playing the tournament with his 10-year-old son Boston. “Summer time is golf season and the City of St. George and the golf program and Colby Cowan, they do an incredible job. There are five or six parent-junior tournaments and it’s great for these kids. It gives them a chance to play a bunch of different courses.”
Keenan Togisola, playing with dad Ruben, said he has just recently developed a passion for golf and JAG (short for Junior Association of Golfers) has helped with that.
“I like everything about golf,” he said. “I just love being out on the course. I started going out when I was younger and he took me out and let me hit some. Now I can out-drive Dad.”
Pretty good, considering Keenan is just 14.
“Most of the kids out here are really good,” said Jace Lee, who was enjoying the best-ball tourney with his dad, Scott. “This is my fourth year doing JAG. I’m 13 now. I mostly play in the JAG tournaments, but my dad and I play a lot other times, too.”
Almost all the two-person teams had one thing in common: A dad or mom who is a lifelong golfer with a desire to share that passion with their child.
“Golf is a special sport,” Dixon said. “Each team sport has important lessons to teach, how to work together and how to rely on each other. But there’s something about an individual sport like golf, where it’s just on them and they don’t have anyone to blame if they don’t get the job done. It’s good for them.”
Both Dixons were beaming after Boston had his first career eagle. And a lot of the golfers were talking about the shot made by Briggs Fillmore. With dad Ryan teamed up with his older brother, 6-year-old Briggs partnered with family friend Bret Smith. On the ninth hole, a par-3 at just over 100 yards, young Briggs hit a line drive that bounced off the cart path and rocketed up the hill to the green, finally coming to rest about 15 feet from the cup.
“Shoot, he was carrying me today,” Smith said. “We used five or six of his shots.”
This was the last of the adult/junior tourneys, though there are several JAG junior tournaments left, including next Tuesday’s event, also at Sunbrook. McArthur, a lifelong golfer who has been the pro at Sunbrook for 25 years, said there’s nothing like these summer days on the course for the young people.
“When I was young, we would get to the course at 7 a.m. and play golf and then hunt for balls and mess around and then play golf again,” he said. “That’s what I always wanted to make it, a place for the kids to feel at home and hang their hat and feel welcome. We’re all a team and we want to make it great for the kids.”
JAG is a summer program put on by St. George City that offers tournaments, training and classes for youth (ages 7-17), as well as reduced greens fees on all the city courses. The program, which currently has nearly 500 participants, is $40 and offers $3 greens fees all summer, a t-shirt, a backpack, a summer pool party and access to 10 junior tournaments and five junior-parent tourneys, plus a rules and etiquette clinic.
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