South Florida PGA Junior Tour makes island debut at The Sanctuary
Last weekend, 94 of the state’s best junior golfers came to Sanibel for the first time to compete at The Sanctuary Golf Club during the ninth stop along the South Florida PGA Junior Tour.
The SFPGA Junior Tour — presented by The Honda Classic — is a membership-based tour open to boys and girls ages 12 to 18 in South Florida with the aspirations and skill levels to compete at the High School and Collegiate level and features some of South Florida’s most talented junior golfers.
"As the Junior Tour Director, I am always looking for new locations. This is the first time we’ve come to Sanibel," said Meredith Schuler, leaders of the SFPGA Junior Tour. "This is a real privilege to play a golf course like this. It has such a great layout and it’s in wonderful condition. It’s truly a treat to play out here."
According to Schuler, the SFPGA membership region covers all of South Florida, "From Vero Beach and Punta Gorda south," she explained. On Sept. 11-12, 67 boys and 27 girls took part in the most recent tour stop.
The South Florida PGA Junior Tour, run under the South Florida PGA Foundation, is committed to its mission of keeping membership and tournament-related costs low while providing first-class quality golf at 12 championship courses throughout South Florida over the course of the Junior Tour season.
"About 75 percent of the players come from the east coast of Florida," Schuler stated.
In addition, the tour is supported by Titleist, Don Law Golf Improvement Center, Allianz Championship, The Fun Group at Mirasol, and ParKit Golf.
On Friday, several players scheduled to play over the weekend took their first look at The Sanctuary’s manicured course. Anthony Gabriele, 14, from West Palm Beach thought it played similar to his home course.
"It’s not too different," he said, preparing to tee-off on the fourth hole. "I need to work on my chipping… we’ll see how it goes."
Gabriele also noted that his favorite golf professional was Phil Mickelson.
"He’s a lefty like me," the teen explained. "He plays a very smart game and he’s a good influence. I got to meet him once… he was really nice."
Halfway through the course, 10-year-old Valeria Sofia from Hallendale approached her second shot off the sixth tee like a seasoned pro. She would like someday to make golf her full-time occupation.
"I like to play because it’s a lot of fun," she said with a smile, adding that Mickelson and Michelle Wie are her favorite golfers. "I’ve made a lot of friends."
Shooting an impressive round of 66 on Sunday was Naples resident Ryan Celano, placing him in a sudden death playoff against Jack Hernandez of Fort Myers. Hernandez shot two below-par rounds of 68 and 70. Celano’s 66 was fueled by a hole-in-one on the seventh hole from 140 yards with his eight iron.
On the first hole of the sudden death playoff, Celano struck quickly by rolling in a 30 foot putt to claim the Boys Overall Title. Stephen McPoyle of Lake Worth finished in third was a two-day total of two under par, 142.
Claiming the Girls Overall title was Juliana Herrera of Plantation, who shot a 72 in the final round. Finishing one shot behind Herrera was Olivia Lynch of Naples. Georgia Price of Fort Myers finished in third with a two-day total of 155.
In the Boys 12-13 Age Division, Stefano Butti of Palm City finished first with a 147, one shot ahead of Zachary Bariso of Boca Raton. Finishing in third with a 149 was Matthew Mourin of Miami Lakes.
"My dad introduced the game to me when I was 6, but at first I didn’t like it," Butti said on Friday. "But then I saw a movie called ‘Bobby Jones: Stroke Of Genius,’ and for some reason I started to like the game."
Butti had previously participated in two SFPGA Junior Tour events, but last weekend’s event was his first competition in two years.
"Golf is a lot of fun… and it’s a lot different than other sports," said the 13-year-old. "It’s all about the mind. And focus. And strategy."
Lorena DeAntonio of Weston shot a 172 finishing in first place by two shots to Kaely Krayeski of Wellingon and Emily Faulkner of Palm City.
In addition, Naples native David Burnham registered an ace during the event. During round one, Burnham hit an 8 iron 150 yards on hole number 12.
The South Florida PGA Foundation is a not-for-profit organization founded to support the South Florida community, with a focus on junior golf, education and scholarships, and charitable gifting. The South Florida PGA Foundation falls under the direction of the of the South Florida PGA, a not-for-profit organization comprised of over 1,600 men and women, PGA Professionals dedicated to growing participation in the game of golf.
For more information on the Junior Tour, visit the South Florida PGA website at www.sflorida.pga.com.