PGA pros to help Junior Golf | AspenTimes.com

PGA pros to help Junior Golf

Nate PetersonAspen, CO Colorado
Published: Courtesy Beige Jones
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ASPEN The International is dead, yet Aspen Junior Golf’s long-standing relationship with PGA Tour pros is still flourishing.A handful of professional golfers, including 2005 Masters runner-up Chris DiMarco and four-time PGA Tour winner Stewart Cink, will be at the Aspen Golf Club on July 2 for a new pro-am – similar to those on PGA stops – to help raise money for Aspen Junior Golf.”Chris and Stewart, guys like that, they literally give back to the game where they first started,” said Aspen Junior Golf Director Alden Richards, a friend of both golfers who convinced the two to come back to Aspen despite the collapse of Colorado’s annual PGA stop earlier this year. “They know what it’s like to be a junior golfer because they did it. When they have the opportunity to help an organization like Aspen Junior Golf, they seize the opportunity to give back to the game they love.”The past three summers, Aspen Junior Golf teamed with Challenge Aspen to hold the Vince Gill & Amy Grant Golf Classic at the Snowmass Golf Club – a pro-am – during the week of the International at Castle Pines. This year the two valley nonprofits opted to host separate tournaments, an amicable split, according to AJG’s board president, Jack Brendlinger.

Challenge Aspen’s charity tournament takes place Monday at the Snowmass Club and precedes Gill and Grant’s concert at Fanny Hill later that night. The Aspen Junior Golf Charity Shootout follows a week later and coincides with a charity dinner at the St. Regis featuring guest speakers DiMarco and former major league pitcher Dennis Rasmussen, live music and silent and live auctions. Aspen Junior Golf, founded in 1987, hosted its first pro-am in 1988, which attracted the likes of Davis Love and Indianapolis 500 winner Danny Sullivan.In the years since, Richards has initiated and maintained friendships with PGA pros – including former British Open champion Tom Lehman – and brought them to Aspen to host clinics and play in pro-ams.Lehman introduced Richards to DiMarco in 2000, and the two instantly hit it off, Richards said.DiMarco hosts his own charity golf tournament north of Orlando, Fla., each October to raise money for kids with cancer, and is passionate about giving back to junior golfers. The native Floridian is also an avid skier who owns a home in Snowmass.

Cink’s connection to Richards – and Aspen Junior Golf – grew from similar interests.”There’s a lot of charity events out there,” Cink told the Aspen Times last year. “About three years ago, Alden was at a tournament, and he told me about this thing. It just really struck a chord. … I’m passionate about golf and passionate about giving back to the game.”Other pros include Tommy Armour and Nationwide Tour pro Ryan Hieleta, who played under Richards’ tutelage in Aspen and was on the PGA Tour last year.”Aspen is where I first realized I wanted to play golf for a living, so to be able to come back there and give back to the kids and be on my old stomping grounds, it’s just great,” said Hieleta, who left Aspen in 1989 as an eighth-grader to move to Tuscon, Ariz., where he could pursue his golf dream year-round. “Alden wrote me a nice letter last year inviting me to come back and play in the pro-am, and I said , ‘absolutely.'”Brendlinger said the tournament is Aspen Junior Golf’s largest fundraiser, and will help cover scholarships, equipment and staffing costs for the nonprofit. During the summer, AJG is six-day operation that works with more than 200 valley youth.

The tournament is about more than just raising money, however.Junior golfers will have a chance to interact with the pros at a morning clinic, and some will caddy for the players at the Aspen Golf Club. The six pros will also get a chance to sink a $1 million hole-in-one from 155 yards out on the 18th hole.”It would be like if you had [the Rockies’] Todd Helton come and do a clinic on hitting,” Brendlinger said. “The kids really hold these people in awe. To be able to sit there within 10 feet of them and watch what they can do with a golf ball – watch them hit it 325 yards and turn it left and right, it’s incredible. It’s also invaluable. They really get a chance to see how the game is supposed to be played.”For more information on the tournament and the charity dinner, call 920-3221 or visit http://www.aspenjuniorgolf.com.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com


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