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Mick Riley: Utah’s Mr. Golf

By Shaun Delliskave for the Murray Journal

Cover photo: Mick Riley, right, and George Von Elm reunite in the 1950s to recall past glories. Photo courtesy of Marriott Library.

What is the only golf course in Utah named after an actual professional golfer? If you said Jeremy Ranch or Nibley Park, try again. That distinction belongs to Mick Riley Golf Course, named after the man known as the “Dean of Utah Golfers.” While the Murray course is always busy, most people have forgotten or don’t even know about Riley. Also, contrary to many high school golf team rumors, Mr. Riley is not buried by the clubhouse (he is buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery, although he probably wouldn’t have complained had he been buried at a golf course).

Born in 1897 in Burke, Idaho, Joseph Michael (Mick) Riley found his way to Utah. There weren’t many options for linksters when Riley was taking up the sport in the 1910s. At the time, Forest Dale had a hitching post for golfer’s horses.

Riley learned golf by caddying at the Salt Lake Country Club, being mentored by notable golfers such as George Von Elm, several years his junior. Von Elm, who grew up in Utah and California, and with Riley as his caddie, took on one of the preeminent golfers of the day, Bobby Jones (who would later found the Masters Golf Tournament). Von Elm became the first golfer from west of the Mississippi River to win a major tournament, and he not only instilled in Riley a passion for golf but exposed him to some of the best golf courses in America.

Like a duck to water, Riley’s experience, plus winning an occasional tournament, helped to secure his position as the first head professional at Nibley Park Golf Course. According to sportswriter Bill Johnston, there were only 122 active golfers in Salt Lake City at the time. For the uninitiated, a professional at a golf course is someone who makes their living from teaching the game, running golf clubs and classes, and dealing in golf equipment.

An adroit golf pro, Riley earned the praises of the Salt Lake Telegram at the end of Nibley Park’s first season in 1922. “The work of Professional Riley at the course is worthy of special commendation. It was Riley’s job to develop interest and get the golfers out. He did.”

Not only did he get the golfers to come out, he developed a course championship, several tournaments, and high school matches. He developed greens and challenging hazards; he also developed aspiring golfers and advocated the sport to women. It was this latter undertaking that led Mick to meet his wife, Estella at one of his classes.

Mick Riley strongly advocated for women to pick up the game. Photo courtesy of Marriott Library.

Utah’s most enthusiastic golf cheerleader would do anything to bring people to experience the game. Even winter was no match for Riley, who opened one of the first indoor golf ranges in downtown Salt Lake in 1930. The Telegram reported that by 1947, 80 percent of all Utah golfers were, at one time, a pupil of Riley’s.

His green design skills were in high demand, as he helped plan courses in Magna, Tooele, Richfield, Moab, Indian Springs, and American Falls, Idaho, as well as Salt Lake’s Bonneville Golf Course. He also revamped the Nibley Park and Forest Dale courses. However, his passion project was Meadowbrook on 3900 South, which he designed and managed until his death. His progressive thinking led to the establishment of a daycare center at Meadowbrook, so that young mothers could take up the game.

After forming the Utah Golf Association, Riley was elected as vice president of the National PGA and served for three years. He also served on several national PGA committees. He was president of the Rocky Mountain Section of the PGA and Golf Professional of the Year in 1955 for the Rocky Mountain Section.

During the 1960s, he was asked to design the Little Valley Golf Course off of Vine Street in Murray. However, his death in 1964 prevented him from ever teeing off at the course. That honor was given to Estella, his wife, and their children at the newly christened Mick Riley Golf Course in 1967. Riley was also posthumously honored as a member of the Utah Golf Hall of Fame.

Perhaps the Salt Lake Telegram summed up Riley best, “The story of Mickey Riley is the story of golf in Utah, for without him many of the municipal courses that have made golf available to the ‘working man’ might not be.”    

Story reposted with permission by Shaun Delliskave and the Murray Journal.          

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PGA of America Debuts New PGA.com to Enhance Connection Between PGA Professionals and Consumers

By Michael Abramowitz, PGA of America

The PGA of America has launched a newly reimagined PGA.com to connect consumers with PGA Professionals. The redesigned site, which is now managed in-house by the PGA, focuses on the journey a golfer takes to begin or improve his or her game, no matter their skill level.

PGA.com and its affiliated championship sites will also continue to provide coverage of prominent events, such as the PGA Championship, Ryder Cup, KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. However, an important emphasis of PGA.com will be on the opportunities enabled by enhancing the coach-consumer relationship.

“PGA.com is designed to bring to life the special relationship between PGA Professionals and consumers through coaching and other consumer-focused services, with a vision that ‘your best golf is ahead of you,’” said PGA Interactive General Manager Rob Smith. “There are so many ways in which a journey in golf can positively impact your life. Our job is to identify the best ways to connect with PGA Professionals across all aspects of the game, beginning with coaching.”

An important shift in the new PGA.com site will be speaking through the voice of the PGA Professional. On the site, PGA Professionals will be featured prominently and given the opportunity to provide exclusive content to engage consumers, including first-person feature articles, videos and advice to help golfers with various aspects of the game and the golf lifestyle.

In the second phase of the launch, scheduled for later this year, consumers will be able to easily search for PGA Professionals who have completed both their American Development Model for Golf (ADM) training available on PGA.Coach and a detailed PGA.com coach profile. ADM utilizes long-term athlete development and quality coaching concepts to promote sustained physical activity, athlete safety and age-appropriate growth. PGA.com is designed to help these coaches establish a relationship with new golfers and then build upon that connection, to give consumers the resources they need to achieve their goals.

“The PGA of America is committed to the future of coaching through the American Development Model for Golf,” said PGA President Suzy Whaley. “As we look to transition the industry from a transaction against a lesson to the lifetime value in a coaching relationship, PGA.com is being architected to facilitate the digital evolution of coaching.”

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Todd Mullen Selected as Utah High School Girls Golf Coach of the Year

By Hannah Wishart, The Richfield Reaper

Richfield High School’s girls’ golf Coach Todd Mullen has been selected as the 2018-19 Utah Girls Golf Coach of the Year by the National Federation of High School Coaches Association, Jan. 3. Mullen was specifically nominated by the Utah High School’s Activities Association as the most deserving recipient for the honor. 

This year’s honorees were selected based upon their coaching performance in the 2018-19 school year, lifetime community involvement, school involvement and philosophy of coaching. The NFHS relies on its member state associations to recognize those who are leading their sport, shaping their athletes and contributing to their community, according to Dr. Karissa L. Neihoff, executive director of the NFHS. 

“It is our pleasure to recognize leaders and role models at the interscholastic level,” Neihoff said. “And, it is to the credit of athletic directors like Richard Barton that coaches like Todd are able to contribute in such a positive way to the youth of our country and communities.” 

Todd Mullen is the head golf professional at Cove View Golf Course in Richfield, Utah, and won the 2018 Utah Section PGA Youth Player Development Leader Award for his continued efforts in sharing the game to the youth in the Richfield community.

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Utah PGA Monthly January Issue

In efforts to better recognize, celebrate and get to know the growing membership of the Utah Section PGA, Utah PGA Monthly digital magazine was created!

We are looking forward to highlighting individuals, recognizing accomplishments and going behind the scenes with our PGA Professionals and all they do to provide this game we love.

In partnership with Fairways Media, Each issue will be delivered to Utah PGA members directly in their email at the beginning of each month and will recap scheduling events and highlight 3-4 PGA Professionals.

Click here to read the first issue.

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Rhees Defends Senior Player of the Year Title

The Oaks Golf Course Head Professional Ryan Rhees proved that winning the 2018 Utah Section Omega Senior Player of the Year was no mistake by winning the title again in 2019.

“It feels good,” Rhees said about winning the season-long race in consecutive years. “We have a lot of good senior players in the Section and to be able to play good enough to come out first is great. It’s fun, everybody gets along great in our Section. It’s just fun playing with the guys.

“It’s not life or death out there but we go out and play hard and try to do the best we can and have fun with it.”

Highlighting the list of his 2019 accomplishments was his victory in the Senior Section Championship played at Alpine Country Club with rounds of 66-72 – 138. The win also qualified him to compete in the 2019 Senior PGA Professional Championship in Texas early October.

“For sure the Senior Section Championship, that was a big one,” Rhees said about which of his four wins meant the most.

Rhees teeing off on Alpine Country Club’s 9th hole in the Senior Section Championship.

Anyone working in the golf industry knows the difficulty of finding time to play and practice, for Rhees, it’s a work in progress.

“It’s hard, you have to get used to playing your best when you know you haven’t put in as much time as you should have. You’ve got to try and talk yourself in to the fact that you can go out and play good.

“I’m a competitive person and I like to go out and win and play the best I can. That keeps me motivated to practice as much as I can and stay in shape as much as I can to stay competitive.”

Rhees tallied four wins on the season, including the Senior Divisions of the Rose Park Open, Sanpete County Open, Tony Basso Group Black Diamond Open and the Senior Section Championship.

Not only did he secure four wins in his 17-events played, but he finished runner-up four times and only finished outside of the top five on two occasions.

“It’s fun playing with the guys in the section. It’s one thing I look forward to. It keeps me motivated at work, knowing I’ve got a tournament to go play in on the weekend that I can go hangout and play golf with the guys I like to be with and play against. It’s a fun Section to be in because everyone gets along so well and there are a lot of great players so it’s good to get out and test your game.”

Ryan Rhees Fast Facts:

What book are you currently reading?

Shoe Dog, the Phil Night biography. That one was really good, just finished that one and another book called Can’t Hurt Me, it’s a Navy SEAL book, I really enjoy those.

I like to read, that’s one of my hobbies, something I like to do when I’m not working.

What’s the last movie you watched?

I don’t see many movies anymore, really… Last movie we watched was Downtown Abbey.

Who are you currently listening to?

I listen to Dave Ramsey’s podcast a lot.

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Sturgeon Storms to Women’s Player of the Year

If you’ve watched The Country Club’s Assistant Professional Haley Dunn-Sturgeon play golf, the last word you would use to describe her game is ‘rookie.’ However, in her rookie season as a PGA associate member of the Utah Section PGA, there was no stopping her in claiming the Omega Women’s Player of the Year.

“Words cannot describe how amazing it feels,” she said. “I love competitive golf and to win Player of the Year, it truly is an honor. I have been working hard on my game and recovering from injuries so it is nice to get back on top.”

She took the Section by storm by playing in four events that provide points in the season-long race, and won two of them. She won the Women’s Low Pro in the Valley View Open and cruised to the top of the Utah Section PGA Women’s Match Play Championship at Riverside Country Club.

Sturgeon finished runner-up in the Brigham City Open Women’s Division and finished 10th at the Siegfried & Jensen Utah Women’s Open, her lowest finish of the season.

Sturgeon also competed for Team Utah PGA in the 2019 Jeannie Goddard Cup.

Finishing runner-up in the points race was TopGolf’s Carly Dehlin-Hirsch, followed by Promontory Club’s Sadie Palmer in third and Glenmoor’s Sam Crawford in fourth. This top-four have all recently started the PGA Professional Golf Management Program (PGM) and are new associate members of the Section.

After the points were totaled for the year, Sturgeon added one more win on her season, just for good measure, at the Utah PGA Pro-Assistant Championship in November when she teamed up with The Country Club’s Wayne Fisher.

In fact, it was at the Pro-Assistant Championship that added the extra icing on top for Sturgeon’s year when she shot a personal-low 63 on her own ball in the first round at Bloomington Country Club.

“The highlight of the season is probably when I shot 63 on my own ball,” she explained. “I made sure I putted out every shot so it was a true score. It was also my first bogey-free round. I felt unstoppable that day.”

Though her Utah Section play brought a season’s-worth of results, she also fit in a Q School prep event for The Cactus Tour, where  her best and worst shots of the year came on the same hole.

“I believe it was on hole 16 on the Dinah Shore Course at Mission Hills. It’s a dogleg right with a wide fairway and a palm tree on the right side. Before teeing off I was talking with my dad to create our game plan. Basically, it was to hit one down the middle and stay away from the palm tree that blocks the second shot. What did I do… sprayed my drive right and put it perfectly behind the palm tree.”

Luckily her best shot followed from 158 yards to the pin.

“I visualized a low hook that would bounce in front of the green and roll up by the pin. I asked my dad for the five iron and hit the shot exactly how I envisioned. It was icing on the cake when it stopped 15ft from the hole. I then rolled in the putt for my most amazing birdie.”

Sturgeon started the PGA PGM program this year and is currently teaching at The Country Club. She will be traveling back to Arizona for the Cactus Tour during the off season.

Sturgeon looks forward to the opportunity to continue to play and compete in Section events in 2020 as the amount of women members continues to grow each year.

Haley Sturgeon Fast Facts:

Do you have any superstitions when it comes to golf or playing in tournaments?

I wish the answer was no, but I do. I try to only play with a number four golf ball. When I’m on the practice green making three-foot putts, if one ball misses multiple times, I feel that is the “bogey” ball and I put it back in my bag… I’m slowly getting over this one.

What’s the last movie you watched?

The last movie I watched was Linsey Vonn: The Final Chapter.

What book is currently on your nightstand?

I’m not a huge book reader, but I love audio books. This is usually what is playing while I’m practicing. Right now, I’m listening to Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

If you had to pick one PGA Tour member, one LPGA Tour member and one actor to complete your group, who would you pick?

I would choose Tiger Woods, Paula Creamer and Justin Timberlake. 

2019 Utah PGA Omega Women’s Player of the Year Points.

Zach Johnson

Johnson Goes Back-to-Back for Omega Player of the Year

Golf is a game of no guarantees, and the unexpected typically runs the show. However, when Davis Park Assistant Professional Zach Johnson tees it up, it’s expected that he’ll be in contention.

After being in the mix to capture the Utah PGA Omega Player of the Year award for years, Johnson finally came out on top in 2018 and has done it again in 2019.

“To win Player of the Year for the second year in-a-row is very special,” Johnson said. “Each year it’s a goal at the top of my list that I set out to achieve. We have so many great players in our Section, you have to stay on top of your game and be competitive throughout the whole year in order to keep yourself in contention for this award.”

Johnson’s season included wins at The Oaks Open, the Utah Section Match Play Championship, tied for first at the Millard County Open, won the Salt Lake City Open and then capped off the season with a win at the Utah Section Championship.

Johnson with the Utah Section PGA Match Play Championship trophies.

“Of victories this year I would definitely say the Match Play Championship was the sweetest,” he said. “I have had a few opportunities to win that event and never was able to get it done. To win this year by chipping in for eagle on the first extra hole of the final match was pretty awesome.”

Though the Section Match Play Championship brought a lot of excitement and a career-first, it wasn’t on the top of his personal highlight list this season.

“Looking back on the year, the highlight for me was getting back in contention to qualify for the PGA Championship again. In the final round at the PGA Professional Championship I shot two-under to get into a playoff. Although I fell short and was disappointed I didn’t advance through the playoff, I proved a lot to myself in that round and event. I was able to create some belief and momentum with my game which really kick-started my year.”

Johnson has had several opportunities to play on a national level, including the 2018 PGA Championship and several PGA Professional Championships and PGA Assistant Professional Championships.

“As a working pro with a family sometimes it gets hard to juggle family, work and playing. Usually the first thing to be compromised is playing so to be able to qualify and represent the Utah Section at national events is always a privilege and something to look forward to each year.”

No matter how many national events Johnson has competed in, the nerves are still there.

“I have to admit, I’m nervous during all competitive rounds to some extent,” he explained. I like that feeling. To me, it shows that I still care and want to compete. To overcome tournament nerves, and don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s easier than others, you have to believe in yourself and draw from previous experience.”

Johnson reading a putt on the 8th green in the final round of the 2019 Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open

Though golf is never a game of guarantees, it’s fair to say that when the Davis Park assistant pro is in the field, it’s a safe bet to find him in the mix or at the top of the leaderboard.

Zach Johnson Fast Facts:

If you had to pick one PGA Tour member, one LPGA Tour member and one actor to complete your foursome, who would you pick?

My foursome would be Tiger, Annika Sorenstam and Michael Jordan.  I’m not much of a movie guy so I went with another greatest of all time athlete in Jordan. 

When you find time, do you prefer to play or practice?

To be completely honest, I don’t spend a lot of time working on my game. When I do have time to play or practice I prefer getting out and playing and competing over spending time on the range or practice greens. That’s what works best for me when it comes to preparing for events.  This winter though I have set a goal for myself to work on getting in better physical shape and gaining some club head speed!

2019 Omega Player of the Year Points list.

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Sharp Low Pro at Southern Utah Open

As the year winds down, local tournament playing opportunities become far and in-between, which is why the 2019 Southern Utah Open, hosted by SunRiver Golf Club and Head Professional Larry Ricketts, saw a large amount of Utah Section professionals taking advantage of the opportunity to play and make it a long weekend before the Pro-Assistant Championship began the following day.

Golf Lab Teaching Professional Tommy Sharp won the Professional Division and the first-place check with a (-4) 70-68, outlasting Joe Summerhays and defending champion Justin Keiley by one stroke.  Sharp birdied his last-three holes to make it happen.

Sharp shot a (-1) 70 in the first round and was trailing Summerhays and Keiley by one stroke. A one-stroke lead isn’t much going into the final round, but a slow start in the final round wasn’t helping.

“Overall, I really hit the ball well and actually was getting very frustrated in the middle of my round that I couldn’t make any putts,” Sharp explained.

“With eight holes to play, I set a goal of playing my final-eight holes in four-under to have any chance of winning and luckily I did it… I birdied my final-three holes and got some help from them (Summerhays and Keiley).

“It felt great to win the pro side of the Southern Utah Open as it was my first victory in the calendar year, even though the points go for next season,” Sharp continued.  “On a funny note, my six-year-old son had been giving me a hard time recently by saying ‘Dad, you haven’t won a tournament in so long’ with extra emphasis on ‘so long.’ After the round, I called him first to tell him and he was quite excited.”

This may be Sharp’s first win in the 2019 season, but with consistent, steady play in his 14-events played, including a second-place finish in the Section Sidebar of the 2019 Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open, Sharp will finish fourth in the Omega Player of the Year race.

Bloomington Country Club’s Scott Brandt held a one-stroke lead in the Pro Senior Division over The Oaks Head Pro Ryan Rhees after the first round with a (-2) 69. Brandt would go on to a five-stroke win with a second-round 69, with birdies on his final-two holes for good measure.

Quintin Sasser claimed the Super Senior Division after trailing first-round leader Henry White by one stroke. Sasser’s 72 in the final round was steady enough to finish one-over and win by two strokes.

A first-round 64 propelled St. George’s Hayden Christensen (a) to a two-stroke lead over close friend Caden Hamill (a) in the first round. but it was an eagle on the par-five 17th hole in the final round that proved just enough to win the whole thing. Christensen shot rounds of (-8) 64-70 to claim the 2019 title.

Full Results.

Fisher and Sturgeon

Fisher and Sturgeon Win the 2019 Utah Section PGA Pro-Assistant Championship

There is a first time for everything, and for The Country Club’s Wayne Fisher and Haley Dunn-Sturgeon it was the theme for their 2019 Utah Section PGA Pro-Assistant Championship victory on November 18-19 at Bloomington Country Club and Sunbrook Golf Club.

“I am ecstatic,” Fisher said about the win. “I’ve heard so much about how she (Sturgeon) plays. This is actually our first time playing together. We came down not knowing how each of us played. I got to watch her and play Bloomington for the very-first time ever, so it’s been a couple days of firsts.”

Fisher and Sturgeon got off to a quick start at Bloomington in the first round with a (-12) 60. At one point, starting on the 13th hole in the shotgun start, The Country Club duo birdied seven holes in-a-row.

Sturgeon shot a career-low (-9) 63 on her own ball in the Fourball format, maintaining her good play from the Utah Section Women’s Match Play Championship.

“Putting, I made putts from everywhere,” Sturgeon said. “I was striking the ball well, putting well and to shoot 63, it was incredible. Career low, first bogey-free round, a lot of firsts down here.”

“I think the country club is going to be ecstatic,” Fisher continued. “This is above and beyond, we’ve talked about coming down. I used to come down with Mr. Branca, but it’s been quite a few years so it’s nice to represent TaylorMade because TaylorMade has been fantastic to me over the years so I’m thrilled that I get to represent this.”

Fisher and Sturgeon shot a second-round (-4) 68 for a 128-tournament total, which barely outlasted the charging Bloomington team of Scott Brandt and Jed Wright, who shot a final round (-10) 62 to finish one-stroke back at 129.

St. George Golf Club’s James Hood and Cameron Hamill, a new associate in the Utah Section, won the Net Division with a (-20) 62-62 – 124 to win by one-stroke over three other teams tied at 125.

“We just ham-and-egged it,” said Hamill. “James made a couple of good putts on our last few holes and got it done.”

“We didn’t make too many mistakes at the same time,” Hood added “We saved ourselves on a couple of holes and took advantage of some good shots.”

We owe Phil Deimling of TaylorMade and Jeff Smith of Adidas a huge thank you for supporting the Section in being sponsors of this year’s Pro-Assistant Championship. They treat our membership well and we’re lucky to have them.

Another thank you goes to Bloomington Country Club and Sunbrook Golf Club for allowing us to use their facilities and play their courses. It was a fitting end to a great year of tournaments.

Full Results

Photos

Craig Norman

Craig Norman, 2019 Utah Section PGA Professional of the Year

By Dick Harmon

All Craig Norman ever wanted to be was a golf professional, make the game his life. When he got his wish, it was all he dreamed it would be.  Going to his job as head golf professional at Hobble Creek Golf Course is a step towards heaven for the Provo native.

Norman was named the 2019 Professional of the Year by his peers in the Utah Section of the PGA of America in October, an honor that left him stunned and speechless, humbled to his core.  “I had no idea and I may not be deserving of that great honor,” he said.

“If you look at the names on that list over the years, that is a lot to live up to. I am deeply honored and cannot believe it, no, not at all.”

Humility aside, Norman has etched a profile in Utah as a consummate pro, uniquely gifted to strike the right balance between manager of manicured acres and a facilitator of fun with clubs, balls, grass, and cups.  It takes an artist to put it altogether.

Norman, the nephew of one of Utah’s longest-tenured golf professionals, the retired Sonny Braun, replaced Braun a few years ago after being his assistant since 1993. Before that, he was an assistant at Riverside Country Club in Provo from 1986-1993. 

Norman’s work in 2019 is highlighted by overseeing the return of one of the state’s favorite public courses after issues with pump and water rights reduced irrigation by 30 percent for the 2018 season.  He has increased corporate tournament play to 40-plus events a year, organized an efficient, hardworking staff, increased participation in the men’s, women’s and junior associations tied to the course and traveled the state as a volunteer rules official. He was the official starter at the Siegfried and Jensen Utah Open at Riverside Country Club, just 11 days after undergoing back surgery.

A friendly, upbeat, accommodating face in Utah golf, his dedication and love for the game is evident in everything he does. It is a natural offshoot of his upbringing by parents who made golf their lifetime hobby and a sister, Terry Norman Hansen, one of the most prolific women’s amateur players in state history. Craig, who played at Provo High School, played collegiately at Utah State University.

“I wish my mom and dad were here to see this,” said Craig who lost his father in 2007 and his mother, a prolific association winner at East Bay and old Timpanogos Golf Courses, in 2017.

Norman has always been enchanted by the draw of golf.  “It’s the most unfair game you play because it’s a chase of the unattainable yet attraction of the belief that you can master it.  You can hit it perfectly, but if you can’t make a 3-footer, it’s all for naught.”