Junior golf taking off in Centre County
(Editor’s note: First of a two-part series on junior golf in the Centre Region).
Within the Centre Region there are two junior golf tours for players 18 years of age and younger.
The North East Junior Golf Tour (NEJGT) is headquartered at Standing Stone Golf Course in Huntingdon under the direction of Scott Stultz.
The North Central Pennsylvania Golf Association (NCPGA) serves its 25 member clubs by providing programs and services necessary to encourage the growth of the game of golf and is under the direction of Jeff Ranck.
The first part of the two-part series features the North East Junior Golf Tour.
The North East Junior Golf Tour is a series of junior golf tournaments held over 15 different golf courses between Pittsburgh and Altoona during June, July and August of 2012. All events are held on weekdays in the morning. There is also a one-day Tour Championship in August at Scotch Valley Country Club in Hollidaysburg. All members are entitled to play in the Tour Championship.
The 2012 season marks the 14th year having played 225 tournaments with a total of over 3,500 members since its inception in 1998.
Like anyone else in the golfing business, Stultz is finding that today’s economy is affecting the membership on the NEJGT. The number of participants during previous seasons would number in the hundreds but thus far the numbers for 10 tournaments have averaged a mere 31 players in the various age groups.
“The kids might want to play and a lot of them play for the fun of it (golf),” said Stultz. “A lot of them don’t want to play in the competition and I understand that but there was a lot more playing in the past than play today. And I think that is everywhere and I don’t have an answer for that. You can’t blame the expenses because I don’t think it’s all that expensive but today’s kids do have other things to do. They play soccer. They play baseball. They play everything. And maybe, to some extent, computers have something to do with it, too. They sit at home and play with those things.”
Now retired after 35 years in the insurance business in Hollidaysburg, Stultz, a 1959 Penn State graduate, was a member of the Nittany Lions’ golf team and played for the legendary coach Joe Boyle, who died in 2008 at the age of 87. His son, Jeb, is the golf pro at Centre Hills in State College.
“Joe and I remained good friends for the rest of his life until he died a couple of years ago,” Stultz said. “My wife and I became very close to Joe and his wife Dolly and would go to State College often for lunch with them. I really liked Joe a lot and he was the coach and we had a great time.”
Since his retirement, Stultz is finding that the junior golf tour at least keeps him busy during the summer.
“The way I got into this (junior golf tour) was a friend of mine said you are always there (around golf) so you might as well do it,” Stultz said. “At least this gives me something to do, I just wish there were a lot more kids playing the game. It’s a lot more fun than the insurance business, I can tell you that. I really didn’t like insurance.”
Stultz’ grandson, Sean Brennan of Hollidaysburg was also a member of the NEJGT and became the PIAA golf champion in 2006 after shooting rounds of 73-71-144, at Heritage Hills Golf Resort in York.
Brennan played golf at Georgia Southern before transferring to Maryland and played for former Centre Hills golf professional Tom Hanna, he currently is on the staff at Oakmont Country Club. Other NEJGT members that played in college include Jimmy Gilliam of Tyrone and Anthony DeGol of Altoona and a member of the Penn State team. Several other former members from the Pittsburgh area went on to play college golf.
“And that’s pretty good,” said Stultz of the success of the NEJGT. “Besides Gilliam and DeGol there were six others that have played in college and that’s a success story for this tour.
Two of the current members of the tour, Garrett Bastardi and Ty Gates, have been having success this season.
Bastardi, son of local weather personality Joe Bastardi, has won twice in the boys' 16- to 18-year-old Oakmont Division. Gates, in the boys' 13-to 15-year-old Oakmont Division, has captured three events.
“I shot a 1-under par (73) so I was really pleased with that,” said Gates of his round at Standing Stone. “First three holes I was 1-under and then I managed to just keep it (round) going. The back nine it seemed the greens changed speed but I managed to adjust toward the end of the round. I thought I shot pretty well on the back (39) so I thought, overall it was a good round.”
Like Tiger Woods, Gates has been around the game of golf for a long time, his father Mike, is an outstanding golfer in his own right and has won the State College Elks Country Club Championship several times.
“The first time I swung a golf club I was two years old,” said Gates. “My dad is my biggest inspiration that I’ve had to keep playing and he’s also a great coach. He really helps me when I need help.”
Gates, 15, a soon-to-be sophomore at State College, appeals to likes Johnny Miller as his golfing idol and with good reason. He is a member of the Little Lions golf team and the roster will lose five seniors opening more opportunities for Gates.
“I find myself a lot like him in that I hit the ball straight, not like all the other pros that hit it everywhere,” Gates said of Miller’s game. “I just want to hit the ball straight down the fairway, straight on the green and two-putt and try to shoot close to even as I can.
“With the loss of so many seniors, we will have a big void to fill this season,” stated Gates. “So we are hoping that we will be able to have more players come out and help us win districts and then the states.”
Only 15, Gates still looks to the future and hopes the game of golf will be part of that dream.
“I am looking toward finding a Division II school to play for,” said Gates. “Hopefully I can get some scholarship money, get a degree and find a profession in the golfing industry. Golf is not like any other sport in that I’ve played for over a decade and it is by far the hardest sport I’ve ever played. I’m still working on it unlike basketball where I just keep playing and I just do the same thing every day. Golf is something new everyday and you are faced with a different challenge every day. You have to learn it all over again and challenge the golf course.”
At this recent NEJGT event, Bastardi carded a round of 40-39, 79 to win the boys' 16- to 18-year-old Oakmont Division.
Bastardi was a member of the State College golf team as a freshman and will enroll in St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Boalsburg this fall and play for coach John Muto.
“I started golfing when I was probably 6 or 7 years old,” explained Bastardi. “My dad put a club in my hand and I’ve loved the game ever since. The more I played, the more I really enjoyed the game and after a couple of years of getting better I thought I could be pretty good at this game.
“We (family) belong to the State College Elks Country Club and I’ve managed to shoot several rounds of 67 there,” stated Bastardi. “I also shot a 5-under 67 on the Penn State Blue Course. I just can’t seem to get off that 67 mark.”
While it was his father Joe that put a club in his hands, Garrett credits his grandfather Matthew Bastardi as the big influence in his golf game.
“My grandfather was really the big influence in my getting into the game of golf,” explained Bastardi. “My grandfather showed me several tips and gave me lessons on how to play the game of golf. I owe an awful lot to him for the success I’ve had in this game. He has helped my golf game tremendously. I also look to Tiger Woods and how he plays the game. I want to emulate his style that no one can make your shots for you, it’s all up to you.”
Bastardi gets his athletic talents from his parents. Father Joe wrestled at Penn State while his mother Jessica (Strunck) was a captain on the Nittany Lions’ gymnastic team and is currently an assistant coach. His sister Jessica is a Penn State student.
“Down the road I would love to play golf in college and have already heard from Maryland and Arkansas and would hope someday to receive a golf scholarship to continue playing in college,” he said.
Goal of the NEJGT
“The goal of the North East Junior Golf Tour (NEJGT) is to provide a venue where young people can enjoy all that competitive golf has to offer, and to instill in each junior the value of a strong work ethic and the fact that good character and integrity count in golf and, more importantly, in life,” explained Scott Stultz, director of the NEJGT.
“Through approximately 15 junior golf tournaments, starting in June and ending in mid-August, the Tour provides and environment where juniors with an interest in golf can discover that through hard work, dedication and perseverance,” Stultz said. “The participants will build character that will allow them to succeed and excel at whatever they do.
“Through playing on the Tour, members meet others from throughout the region and establish friendships that will last a lifetime.”