‘Little league’ golfKids Golf Tour helping youth gain tournament experience at an early age
Once Chris Geiss saw the type of tournament experience young golfers in other parts of the country have the chance to receive, he knew there had to be a way to give southwest North Dakota’s youth the same opportunities.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
SOUTH HEART — Once Chris Geiss saw the type of tournament experience young golfers in other parts of the country have the chance to receive, he knew there had to be a way to give southwest North Dakota’s youth the same opportunities.
Last summer, Geiss was driving his family back from the Callaway Junior Worlds in San Diego. His son, Gehrig Geiss, had played in the 6-year-old tournament. There, Geiss realized that his son’s tournament experience was paltry compared to his peers from states where golf is a year-round sport.
“Gehrig had played with some 6-year-olds who had already golfed in 40 tournaments,” Geiss said.
Geiss knew there had to be a way for his son, and others who also wanted to pursue the game at a young age, to gain experience by playing competitive golf and not having to drive more than a day to reach a tournament.
Out of that thought, the North Dakota Kids Golf Tour was born.
With the help of area golf coaches and Pheasant Country golf professional Kirby Robb, Geiss founded the Kids Tour this summer.
With 10 tournaments lined up for the first season, Geiss’ hope for moderate success in the Tour’s first season was achieved Tuesday as the season wrapped up at Pheasant Country Golf Course with 46 golfers ages 6-18 playing in the inaugural North Dakota Kids Golf Tour Championship.
Geiss said he likes to think of the Tour as “little league” golf and Robb believes it’s a great stepping stone on the way to junior high and high school golf.
“They’re able to see these golf courses before they step into junior high or varsity golf,” Robb said. “They’re going to know the courses very well and they’re going to be used to the competition. Instead of stepping up to the plate in seventh grade and saying, ‘I’m a little bit nervous,’ now they’re going to be used to it. They’re going to know their competition.”
Joey Wagner, a sixth-grader at South Heart Elementary School, shot a 41 to win the 9-11 age group championship.
Wagner said he has used the Tour to acquaint himself with tournament golf, which he knows will help him once he reaches the next level.
“My game has definitely gotten a lot better because I’m just out here playing tournaments,” Wagner said. “My game has got better because I know what to do.”
Regardless of age, golfers play only nine-hole rounds. Eight of the 10 tournaments were played at nine-hole courses this season. Stopping at nine holes means tournaments are quick and kids are only on the course for two to three hours.
Keeping the yardage markers in step with U.S. Kids Golf specifications also helps speed up play.
On Tuesday, players age 6-8 totaled 1,265 yards, ages 9-11 totaled 1,690 yards, boys and girls ages 12-14 and girls 15 and older played from the women’s red tees. Boys ages 15 and older went off from the white tees.
The Tour handed out Tour Championship honors to the player with the combined three lowest scores.
Glen Ullin High School senior Laura Duppong, a four-time Class B state tournament qualifier, locked up the Tour’s girls 15-and-older season championship by carding a 43.
Duppong started playing golf competitively when she was in the eighth grade but said starting that late had its disadvantages.
“I wish I had it (the Tour) when I was younger, then maybe I would have improved,” Duppong said. “These little kids are going to know how to play tournaments by the time they’re in high school.”
Beulah High School freshman Connor Candrian, 14, said playing in the Tour has given him a chance not only to improve, but to also see different golf courses and keep his tournament etiquette and mentality fresh.
“It’s nice to play more courses that you don’t normally play,” Candrian said. “Then you get used to them. When you get to high school, you know what the course is like. You’re used to the pressure of those little, short putts because you’re in a tournament. It helps with it.”
Many of the high school golfers came from Beulah, Bowman or South Heart. However, they want to see their peers from other communities compete in the Tour next season, hoping it will add to its difficulty and competitiveness.
Chris Geiss said he has a “10-year plan” for the Tour and it includes expansion outside of the southwest part of the state. There are plans to add Tour stops at Dickinson’s Heart River Golf Course and Killdeer’s Medicine Hole Golf Course next summer.
“It’s going to improve golf in all of North Dakota, southwest North Dakota especially,” Geiss said.
North Dakota Kids Golf Tour Championship
At Pheasant Country Golf Course
South Heart Boys 6-8
Winner: Gehrig Geiss, Glen Ullin, 41 (Player of the Year).
Runner-up: Jacob Robb, South Heart, 48.
Winner: Joey Wagner, South Heart, 41 (Player of the Year).
Runner-up: Carter Klein, Beulah, 42.
Winner: Jarret Lee, Richardton, 37.
Winner: Zach Miller, Richardton, 40 (Player of the Year).
Winner: Jenny Zastawniak, Beulah, 43 (Player of the Year).
Runner-up: Jada Mattson, South Heart, 48.
Winner: Zach Kessler, Beulah, 40 (Player of the Year, won 2-hole playoff).
Runners-up: Derek Morris, Beulah, 40; Noah Iverson, Beulah, 40.
Winner: Laura Duppong, Glen Ullin, 43 (Player of the Year).
Runner-up: Jessica Hill, Bowman, 54.
All ages Overall scoring leaders
Notes: Top three rounds, tiebreakers based on lowest score at Tour Championship.
1, Zach Kessler, Beulah, 117.
2, Joey Wagner, South Heart, 117.
3, Noah Iverson, Beulah, 119.
4, Zach Miller, Beulah, 120.
5. Gehrig Geiss, South Heart, 120.