Golf

On Grand Strand Golf: Kirk’s Junior Golf Exchange growing with her celebrity

Meredith Kirk works with a junior golfer during a club giveaway in April at Blackmoor Golf Club.
Meredith Kirk works with a junior golfer during a club giveaway in April at Blackmoor Golf Club. Submitted photo

The Junior Golf Exchange, a creation of Murrells Inlet LPGA instructor and 2014 Mrs. South Carolina Meredith Kirk, is growing as both the program and Kirk continue to attract national media attention.

Kirk was profiled in a center spread piece in Golf Magazine’s May edition as one of seven “Innovators” in golf for 2015 for the creation of the Junior Golf Exchange.

She created the program late in 2013 to provide full sets of new and used golf clubs to children ages 14 and younger at no cost through participating golf facilities and the www.juniorgolfexchange.org website.

Kirk’s 180 appearances as Mrs. South Carolina and her selections as one of the 10 “Most Beautiful Women in Golf” for 2014-15 by Golf Magazine and one of the 40 “Best Young Teachers (under 40) in America” for 2014-15 by Golf Digest have given her opportunities to give her program exposure.

The program is now at facilities in 15 states, LPGA instructors at several facilities are onboard and Kirk estimates it has provided nearly 100 golf bags containing full sets of clubs to juniors. Several were provided during a club giveaway in April at Blackmoor Golf Club, where Kirk is a teacher.

“It’s doing great. People are donating clubs and making donations,” said Kirk, who saw traffic on her site increase significantly after the Golf Magazine article. “It’s like the snowball effect, it’s accumulating snow and moving a little bit. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the summer plays out.”

About 10 courses on the Strand participate, with Farmstead Golf Links, Meadowlands Golf Club, True Blue Golf Club and Blackmoor being among the most active.

Involved states include Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Colorado, Maryland, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona and California. Bermuda is also involved and Canada is in the works.

Junior Golf Exchange has forged a partnership with U.S. Kids Golf, allowing it to turn donations into new clubs purchased at prices lower than wholesale and delivered by the equipment maker. “So we’re able to purchase more golf equipment with the monetary donations that come in,” Kirk said.

Kirk believes the next big step for Junior Golf Exchange is a corporate sponsor or corporate sponsors. “That would really give us the outlet where they would be advertising to grow it,” Kirk said. “We’ve done a lot on our own, but we need a corporate sponsor to take it from the grassroots level to the next level.”

For now, Kirk will rely on her growing celebrity to push the program. In May, she was featured with instructor Michael Breed on Golf Channel’s The Golf Fix. The golf tips that aired on the show were filmed at LPGA International in Daytona, Fla.

She filmed other instruction segments there that will air on future Golf Channel shows, including a tip for playing under pressure that is scheduled to air Sept. 2 on School of Golf.

“That was an awesome experience filming with them,” Kirk said.

She’s the subject of an online sweepstakes through the course ownership and management company Founders Group International on www.mbn.com to win a golf weekend with her. A similar promotion last year featured LPGA Tour star Natalie Gulbis.

Kirk has also been nominated for Golf Digest’s listing of America’s 50 Greatest Teachers as chosen by their peers.

Ketola suffers cut

Dale Ketola of Little River, a Coastal Carolina alumnus and the owner/head of instruction of Potential Golf at Farmstead Golf Links, was on what he assumed would be the cut line with one hole to play Monday in the second round of the PGA Professional National Championship at Philadelphia Cricket Club.

He was even par for the second round and 5 over for the tournament through 35 holes, and figured he needed a par on the 415-yard par-4 18th hole to be among the 90-plus players to make the cut to the third round in the 312-player event.

His drive found 6-inch rough to the right of the fairway, and after a layup he spun a wedge back to about 30 feet from the hole. His aggressive putt went 6 feet past the hole and he missed the comebacker to make a double bogey and miss the cut by a couple strokes.

“I was happy with the way I played other than the putter. I couldn’t hit the ball any better,” said Ketola, who said he hit 31 of 36 greens in regulation over two rounds. “If I putt like I normally putt, who knows? I had 75 putts in two rounds. I’ve never done that in my life. I had chances.”

The Greenwood native, 35, qualified for the PGA PNC, which features a $550,000 purse, by finishing in the top 10 at the Carolinas PGA Section Championship at Duke University last September. Ketola survived a playoff featuring seven players for the final two spots.

The Dunes Golf and Beach Club hosted the PGA PNC last summer.

“What a fantastic tournament it was,” Ketola said. “You felt you were playing in a PGA Championship the way it was run and the tournament. It makes me really want to make it for next year.”

This year’s CPGA Section Championship, which will once again serve as the PGA PNC qualifier, will be held at the Grande Dunes Resort Course from July 28-30. The 2016 PGA PNC will be held at Turning Stone Resort in New York, the site of CCU alum Dustin Johnson’s first pro win.

Ketola shot a 5-over 75 with five bogeys in the first round and birdied the 17th hole Monday to get back to even following a pair of birdies and a bogey and double bogey earlier in the second round.

Ketola was one of three players from South Carolina in the event, along with Greg Boyette of Awendaw and Charles Frost of Johns Island, the head pro at Kiawah Island Club’s River Course. Frost shot a 5-under 67 Monday and is tied for second at 3-under 139, four shots behind leader Ben Polland, a 24-year-old assistant pro at Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, N.Y.

The top 20 finishers this week qualify for the $10 million PGA Championship from Aug. 13-16 at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

The final two rounds are televised on Golf Channel from 3:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday and 2-5 p.m. Wednesday.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284 or on Twitter @alanblondin, or read his blog Green Reading at myrtlebeachonline.com

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