New junior golf program aims to make competition more affordable
Despite having a self-described golf swing that is “just terrible,” Shelly Christensen is having a major impact on junior golfers in the Inland Northwest.
The Liberty Lake resident and mother of two teenage sons has borrowed liberally from her vast knowledge of event planning to become the driving force behind Junior Golf Northwest, a fledgling family business that was created to provide golfers between the ages of 12 and 18 with more affordable competitive opportunities.
As part of the business model, Christensen, who also serves as event coordinator at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course, is the lead person in organizing and conducting the five JGN tournaments that will play out this spring and summer.
The first of those events was held earlier this month at Indian Canyon Golf Course, and the second starts this afternoon at 2 at The Creek at Qualchan. A two-day event, the Liberty Lake Classic, will be held July 9 and 10 at the Liberty Lake and MeadowWood courses, with the tournament schedule wrapping up on Aug. 24 with the first Battle of the Border at the Resort course where Christensen works.
According to Christensen, the idea of staging an annual series of local junior golf events was spawned by the success she had in organizing a couple of summer tournaments in an effort to give her youngest son, Joel, an avid golfer and 17-year-old junior at Central Valley High School, some close-to-home competitive opportunities.
“They went well,” Christensen said of those minor tournaments, “and afterward, a lot of local parents asked me if I could do more. Aside from the WJGA (Washington Junior Golf Association), there just aren’t a lot of summer events around here, and a lot of parents have been taking their kids over to Seattle or even down to California and Arizona for tournaments.
“That can be really expensive, so we talked to some other families and decided that we were going to make this happen for kids in our area, and give them a chance to compete without the added expense of so much travel.”
The initial event at Indian Canyon drew 24 golfers, who competed in two boys and girls “Varsity” divisions – 12-14 years of age and 15-18 – and a “Junior” division for younger golfers just taking up the sport.
Christensen expects a slightly larger turnout at Qualchan today, with golfers from Moses Lake and Yakima having expressed interest in competing, and hopes to bump up the interest even more for the Liberty Lake Classic.
The season-ending tournament at the Resort, which will feature a team competition between golfers from Washington and Idaho, has already attracted more than 50 entries, with Richland High School planning to send 20 kids to event.
“I fully expect a full field (of 144) for the Coeur d’Alene tournament,” said Christensen, whose husband, Jon, and oldest son, Adam, 19, are also involved in running the JGN competitions. “We really haven’t had much time to publicize the events, and until school lets out participation will be a bit limited.”
Christensen’s oldest son designed the JGN website, juniorgolftournorthwest. com, which contains information about the organization, the tournaments it runs and entry fees, which include greens fees, tee prizes and a post-tournament awards dinner.
“It’s really been a family operation,” said Christensen, who would like to eventually stage a junior event every other week during the summer. “And we’re having a lot of fun with it.”
As part of her tournament-day duties, Christensen distributes gift bags to contestants and then tours the course taking photographs and handing out water and treats.
“And being a mother, I also make sure everyone has sunscreen and a Band-Aid,” she said.
Christensen, who worked as the activities director at a private school in South Carolina before moving to Liberty Lake nine years ago, is in her fifth year at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course.
“I’ve been dealing with kids and events for a long time,” she said, “and working (at the Resort) has allowed me to learn even more about what it takes to put on a good golf tournament.”
Winners of each age division are presented with 2-foot-high trophies, and press releases about their victories are sent to their school newsletters and local newspapers.
“We want them to feel like they’ve done something big,” Christensen said. “The more serious golfers in our Varsity Division have aspirations of playing at the collegiate level, or higher, and we want to help them get a little more exposure.
“We know this probably isn’t the easiest time, economically, to get something like this going. We don’t have sponsors, yet, for instance, so everything we’re doing is out of our pocket.
“But, so far, it’s been well worth it.”