Ernst proof of JGANC success

ragostini@modbee.comMay 8, 2013 

    alternate textRon Agostini
    Title: Staff writer
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    Bio: Ron Agostini has served as a sports reporter and columnist for The Bee for more than 35 years. His stories and columns have won state-wide, regional and national awards and he's a board director and past president of the California Golf Writers and Broadcasters Association. He's a graduate of Fresno State.
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— The Junior Golf Association of Northern California already has kicked into gear with another full calendar of golf tournaments.

About 100 tournaments are scheduled by the circuit that has provided so much golf for thousands of juniors between 7 and 17 since 1970.

By now, you're aware of its many alumni: Bobby Clampett, Pat Hurst, Natalie Gulbis, Juli Inkster, Paula Creamer, Nick Watney, Kay Cockerill, Beyer High graduate Matt Bettencourt and many others.

Its impact even was seen during last weekend's stirring victory by Derek Ernst at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow (N.C.).

Ernst, a former Clovis East High star and a product of UNLV, squeezed into the field as a fourth alternate and then beat David Lynn in a playoff for the career-changing victory and a check for $1.206 million.

But did you know that Ernst — who turns 23 next week — cut his golf teeth on the JGANC Tour? In fact, Ernst won the JGANC Match Play Championship — the tour's flagship event — in both 2006 at Diablo Grande and 2007 at Ripon's Spring Creek Country Club.

"Derek was on two of our America's Cup and Hogan Cup teams," said Modesto's Ken Miller, the owner of McHenry Golf Center and the NCGA's chairman of the board. "You see guys like him doing well, it reminds me of how fast time is flying by."

Miller, 47, remembers his days as a JGANC star. So does McHenry instructor Dana (Arnold) Ebster, a junior star along with her sister Keri and brother Eric during the 1980s. Dana, a member of the board along with Miller, illustrates the JGANC's leadership base in Modesto.

Shane Balfour, former head pro at Turlock Country Club and Diablo Grande, remains as the executive director. Also on the board are Spring Creek CC manager Jim Toal and Turlock's Jane Smith.

"We want to give back to junior golf what it gave to us," Miller said. "We enjoy helping the kids."

So do others like NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller, the former U.S. and British Open champion who's stayed close to the JGANC over the years. Since he took ownership of Silverado in Napa, Miller now is the generous host of the circuit's season-ending Tournament of Champions each October.

The JGANC, about 1,700 members strong, already has staged events such as the 66th Len Ross Fresno City Junior and the 64th Sacramento City Junior Easter Championship in March.

The membership fee is $95, which opens the door to competition at some of the region's best clubs. The entry fees for the tournaments usually range between $25 and $65, a good value especially for two-day events which offer prizes and meals. The field for the JGANC Match Play is packed with 248 contestants.

The local junior golf lineup:

• The second First Tee of Central Valley Junior Open, June 1, at Modesto Municipal.

• The 36th JGANC Match Play Championship, June 10-13, at Spring Creek CC, Ripon.

• The 61st Bumgardner Junior Memorial, July 8-9, at Del Rio CC.

• The Matt Hansen Junior Classic, July 13-14, at Stevinson Ranch.

• The Oakdale Rotary Junior Classic, July 15, at Oakdale CC.

• The George Maroney Junior Memorial, July 16-17, at Dryden Park and Modesto Muni.

• The Turlock Junior, Aug. 5-6, at Turlock CC.

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THE SHAG BAG — The U.S. Junior Amateur comes to spectacular Martis Camp near Truckee on July 22-27. The gorgeous Tom Fazio design measures 7,675 yards (it doesn't play that long at 5,800 feet above sea level), the longest in tournament history. ... Former Modesto Junior College star Spencer Downey will continue her golf at Chico State. ...

USC senior Sam Smith, a Turlock High graduate, shot 67 this week at Fresno's Sunnyside CC and advanced through Local Qualifying for the U.S. Open. Smith leads the 12th-ranked Trojans into the postseason. Former Cal State Stanislaus star Ted Schrier had a 70 at Sunnyside and is first alternate. ...

Ryan Jones, a member of this year's MJC team, gutted out an 89 during the first round of the Northern California Championships on Monday at Diablo Grande's Legends course. He was forced to withdraw with 18 holes left due to illness. Jones led the Pirates in stroke-average (77.5).

HOLES-IN-ONE — Joe Haro, Riverbank, 195-yard 12th at Creekside, 4-hybrid. ... Judi Presley, Modesto, 95-yard seventh at River Oaks, Ceres, 9-hybrid. ... Jason Smith, Oakdale, 71-yard third at Escalon, lob wedge.

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