This was our “homecoming” visit to Eagle Ridge GC, our first visit of 2022 to the venue we affectionately call home! Eagle Ridge was one of the first venues we played back in early 2020, back in the days when no one had even heard of us “Highlanders” and just getting tee times at a venue was a long and painful process! It was never like that here however as long-standing GM Dale Smauder immediately made it clear to us that without junior golf there is no FUTURE in golf!
From that day forward we have enjoyed a great relationship with Dale and his team at Eagle Ridge GC and with 4 9-hole courses to play our return visits can always be a challenging and fresh experience for our junior players.
A busy day lay ahead of us with LOTS going on in the lead up to play beginning. As you know we do enjoy welcoming new players into the Claret Junior Tour family and on this occasion, we were delighted to be welcoming 4 of them!
A very warm welcome to 16-year-old players Conner Brown (Crystal River) and Nolan Danapilis (Clermont), Alexander Pendry aged 13 from Oviedo and a very special welcome to our latest young lady golfer from The Villages, 11-year-old Alexis Wood who was not only joining us for the first time, but she was also making her 18-hole tournament debut! More about that later but we do hope you all enjoyed the tournament experience at Eagle Ridge GC and we hope this may be the first of many times we see you competing on The Claret Junior Tour during 2022.
Before play began, we also took the opportunity to get our small group of Claret Junior Scholarship Award players for 2022 together for a quick photoshoot as we don’t often get the opportunity to have them all in attendance with us at the same time! Since we announced in early 2022 that it was our plan to reward a few of our young players with scholarship awards, which will see them play FREE golf for the entire season, we have been asked a few times about the decision-making process and how we managed to come up with the final list of 5 junior golfers?
Let me assure you all right away, it was NOT an easy thing to do! I have lost count of just how many times I have said this but once again, just for the record, Fiona and I feel we are truly blessed to welcome so many wonderful young people, and their families to our tournaments, and so many of them we have come to know well over the past few years.
When we started the process of scholarship awards, we did so in conjunction with our sponsors. Without them and their ongoing support, we could not invest in any of our young players in this way! In particular our long-term supporters and sponsors TCL – Tri County Landscapes (Todd and Melissa Coon) and our new family sponsor for 2022 Phillips Toyota in Leesburg (Tony Viero)
We can never thank them enough for their support and for agreeing to being alongside us in what we do! They have given us the opportunity to do what we wanted to do for some time and start properly investing in our junior golfers in a way that hopefully demonstrates our, and our sponsors, belief in the fact that sport, and golf in particular, is a great way to help create better young adults in the years ahead.
The process of choosing who, as I said previously, was most definitely a tough one! We wanted to ensure that we had scholarship award juniors across a number of age groups and that we had both boys and girls represented. We also wanted to factor in a number of attributes, that each of these first scholarship players has. These included not only a strong level of promise and ability but, just as important, they have all already demonstrated their passion for the game and a strong desire to develop AND they all possess the kind of personality that makes them ideal role models for other young golfers.
We know all 5 of these junior golfers well! That’s not surprising really as they have also shown to be some of our most regular attending players, another factor that’s important to us as there is little point rewarding scholarships to any junior player who only plays tournament golf infrequently!
In age range order our first Scholarship award players for 2022 are Rhett Kirkland aged 11, Aiden Skrocki aged 12, Tyler Budill aged 13 and our duo of 15-year old’s, Delaney Sillaway and AJ Burns. Good luck to you all in 2022 and we are delighted that you have agreed to represent The Claret Junior Tour in 2022 in this way.
Please note, if you are a junior player and you want to be considered for a scholarship opportunity with us in future we would be delighted to hear from you! Awarding dedicated junior golfers with these opportunities is important to us and we are already looking ahead to possibly adding additional awards in 2022 and certainly more over the next few years…all we ask is you do what the 5 players above have already done and show us you are dedicated to your chosen sport and you already have the passion and desire to learn and develop through practice, instruction and regular tournament play.
Back to today’s competition and we start with an update on how things turned out in our Old Course Flight.
The Old Course Flight (Ages 15/17)
There were no fewer than 5 previous low scoring medalist players in this one which meant it was always going to be competitive. In the end it was Jonathan McLeroy (Orlando) who took the day’s first Claret Junior Medal with a consistent 39-39-78. Two birdies in Jonathan’s round at holes 3 and 4 helped him secure the top spot by two strokes from Lake Mary Junior EJ Maupin who ran Jonathan close. EJ also enjoyed a couple of birdies of his own at 10 and 12 but on this occasion just couldn’t close the gap enough in the end!
Congratulations then to Jonathan McLeroy. Great to see this young man playing welI though I do still find it hard to believe this is Jonathan first medal win with us as we know him so well and it really does seem like he has played so much good golf with us over the last couple of years…well done Jonathan, this could be a very significant year for you and your golf journey and we are delighted to see you pick up this win!
The Augusta National Flight (Ages 13-14)
This age group is always an interesting group to watch play. It seems like there are so many strong young players coming up right now in this age bracket and we are blessed to say that we see lots of them at our tournaments.
Undoubtedly, one of the best of the current crop is 14 year old Ocala kid Zach Phan. We have watched Zach develop in the last few years from a strong but inconsistent, and even occasionally temperamental, young player into a much more mature and composed young man, both on and off the golf course! One thing that hasn’t changed about Zach, we are pleased to report, is his desire to be the best he can be EVERY time he plays. He sets himself high standards and when he’s playing well very few can match him in this age group bracket!
Coming into this one Zach had already picked up medal wins with us at his home course venue, Ocala GC, and more recently at The Monarch in Leesburg last week where he not only won his flight but also became our third young golfer, alongside Bella Dovhey(Orlando) and Riley Sillaway (Longwood) to join our super 60″s pool of young players who have shot tournament scores in the 60’s with us recently! Zach’s 66 that day was very special to him as it represented his best competition round ever AND, along the way, you’d have to say it was helped hugely by the hole in one he shot at the par 3 13th of The Monarch! His first, and our Tour’s first ever ace!
Zach was pushed hard in this one by another two of those hugely talented young players who are both working really hard to find their best consistency. Both Phoenix Wilson (Longwood) and Kale Fashik (Belleview) are exciting young talents, both too are previous multi-medal winners. On this occasion though they both came up just a few strokes short of Zach with Phoenix finishing on 41-37-78 and Kale on 39-40-79.
Before this one started we had thrown down a challenge to Zach, and indeed to all of those players in that age bracket, and said that whichever player was first to achieve 3 medal wins, in addition to being our first player to be promoted to our new Triple Crown Player Flight for 2022 (reserved exclusively for medal winners earning 3 or more medal wins) we would also provide that player with an FJT STEP (Special Tournament Exemption Program) Award.
Zach’s 4 birdie round of 37-38-75 was best of the day and once again he was back in the winner’s circle. Congratulations Zach, we are delighted to see you playing so well and we hope this is just the beginning of an exceptional year of tournament golf for you!
The Carnoustie Flight (Ages 11/12)
While it’s still fairly early in the 2022 season some things don’t really change much from what’s gone before. Last season it took Riley Sillaway (Longwood) only a handful of tournaments to rise to the top and secure his 3 medal wins and promotion to our Elite player flight. It’s looking like a similar picture is already unfolding this season and at Eagle Ridge he started quickly and consistently to ensure he was going to finish the day with Claret Junior medal win number two!
What a year the last one turned out to be for Riley! He, and we, enjoyed being a part of a whole series of accomplishments in his golf journey in 2021 and, for those of us who know him well, we expect only additional great achievements in 2022 too! He’s an exceptional young talent who gives his absolute all to be the best he can be in his chosen sport. I would have to say probably more so than any other junior we know!
He’s studious and intense when in competition and he shows a maturity (yes, I know he’s 12 but THIS kid is NOT your typical 12-year-old junior golfer!) way beyond his tender years. Riley LOVES to play tournament golf! He sets himself high standards and he works hard to achieve goals…and we just LOVE to see him playing out there, where he belongs!
Last year, as mentioned Riley was one of our first junior players to achieve 3 medal wins and achieve promotion. He also finished the year as our top medal winner with no fewer than 8 medal wins! In addition to that he was crowned our TCL Junior Open Champion in July picking up a Claret Jug Trophy and then he added another as a Claret Junior Tour Championship Winner in his age group in December. And, just in case that wasn’t enough for our young Longwood Champion, in that same end of year championship he set his own, and our tour record low score, that may take some time to topple, securing a blistering -8 (64) on the final day of competition! What a year it was!
This one may not have had all the drama of the above but regardless, Riley took medal win number two of the season fairly comfortably. A 36-40-76 was enough on this occasion. What will 2022 bring for Riley and is it even possible that he could emulate those past achievements….who would bet against him?
Congratulations Riley, another good job and another medal secured.
The Pebble Beach Flight (Ages 11 and under)
Our youngest players, boys and girls in this one and we had some exceptional golf on display and some awesome stories to tell too. One talented youngster finally picked up a very well-deserved medal win after coming close on a number of previous occasions and 3 of our youngest lady golfers took to the fairways of Eagle Ridge GC and showed that the future of girls’ tournament golf could be in a very good place indeed!
Alexis Wood (11) had joined us to make her tournament debut alongside Villages Golf Academy friends, and regular tournament players Kenzi Kacanich (8) and Eden Wilkins (8). 18 holes of tournament golf from the red tees of Eagle Ridge GC is a real big ask and a huge challenge for each of these young girls. Each of them deserves huge praise however as they happily, for the most part, hit fairways, chipped in and made putts ALL day long on their way to impressive sores of Alexis 54-55-109, Eden 52-55-107 and Eden, our most experienced 18-hole veteran (aged 8!) recording an excellent 51-52-103. Great job girls, we hope you enjoyed that experience, you should be very proud of yourselves!
Our medalist in this one was Brantley Flannery. Brantley is an exceptional young man and a fine young player who’s just going to keep on getting stronger and more experienced when it comes to tournament play. He is another of those youngsters who goes about the job of putting a score together in a confident, but serious manner for one so young. He is confident about his ability but humble and never brash and we loved to see that huge smile when he finally got his hands on that medal! We are expecting big things of Brantley in the future, for now though we just want to see him competing in tournaments as often as possible as that, combined with good instruction and practice is the ONLY path to the real improvement he wants to achieve for himself!
Brantley recorded a 47-44-91 at Eagle Ridge GC. Congratulations from everyone at The Claret Junior Tour Brantley, great job and check out that smile, is he happy or what?
The Player Scores from Eagle Ridge GC
Thank you to our Sponsors.