USGA FOUNDATION
Memories Made at LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Event July 18, 2018 By Jordan Schwartz, USGA

The LPGA-USGA Greater Newark Girls Golf Invitational was held at Weequahic Golf Course. (Mustafa Hooten)

Clay Merchent playing his tee shot at the 11th hole during the first round of stroke play of the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)
Clay Merchent playing his tee shot at the 11th hole during the first round of stroke play of the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)
Clay Merchent playing his tee shot at the 11th hole during the first round of stroke play of the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)

Liensay Marie Pastoral scampers from one shady patch of grass to the next, seeking refuge from the burning sun on a scorching 90-degree day. She’s nearing the end of her nine-hole round in the sixth annual LPGA-USGA Greater Newark Girls Golf Invitational at Weequahic Golf Course, a green oasis within the largest city in New Jersey.

Upon reaching the final tee, the 12-year-old’s tiny body collapses to the ground in a dramatic plea for rest. She allows her two playing partners to go first before plucking a driver from the bag and – perhaps inspired by the prospect of lunch ahead – smacking a perfect shot onto the green. The 150-yard hole plays as a par 4 for this younger group and so Pastoral’s second putt drops for her first lifetime birdie.

“I’m keeping this ball forever!” she shouts before running to the clubhouse.

Pastoral of Queens, N.Y., was one of the dozens of tristate area girls taking part in the open competition. The local Girls Golf chapter itself has 62 enrollees and runs from May to July every Wednesday evening at the Galloping Hill Golf Course Learning Center in Kenilworth. This day’s event was a special treat.

“We decided the girls should experience participation in a tournament,” said site director Beverly E. Harrison, who has been with the chapter since its founding in 2005. “We still follow the USGA Rules; however, it’s more about the experience than the competition.”

Harrison stressed the importance of exposing the kids to all aspects of the game.

“We bring in groundskeepers, lady pros and golf course owners,” she said. “We want the girls to know there are myriad things they can do in the golf industry, so they’ll know that after high school and college, there’s still an avenue for them to pursue the game because they won’t all become pros.”

The LPGA-USGA Girls Golf of Greater Newark, which is a 501(c) 3 program of Renaissance Junior Golf, Inc., has had several success stories.

Kim Brown, who signed up in 1995, became the first African-American female golfer to compete at Yale University. After graduation, she was hired as an assistant site director at the First Tee of Seattle.

Liensay Marie Pastoral, 12, tees off on the 9th hole at Weequahic Golf Course. (Mustafa Hooten)

Lauren Braswell captained the Rutgers University golf team, earned an MBA from Columbia Business School and spent 10 years at Goldman Sachs before becoming a principal at KKR.

Kim (Frye) Alula earned degrees from Spellman College and Columbia University and now works as a merchandising senior director at Fanatics.

Walter Frye founded Renaissance Junior Golf in 1994 with the goal of introducing inner-city kids to the game.

“We want to give children the opportunity to learn and play the game without being pushed,” he said. “They have to want to do it. We try to keep the parents at bay.”

Frye didn’t grow up on the course. He was a basketball player who thought golf was for the unathletic. The Newark businessman wasn’t introduced to the game until age 40, when his hoops buddies challenged him.

“I said I could step on a course and beat them,” Frye recalled. “I started right here on the first hole and swung and missed six or seven times. It was humbling. It was more than I thought it was.

“I almost got a divorce learning how to play. After a year and a half, I was breaking 100, but I almost lost my house and home because it took that much time to practice.”

Frye’s passion for the game manifested into him creating a junior golf program, one that volunteer coach Hilary Abramowitz said gives children a chance to experience something new.

“I want young girls to realize there are so many opportunities out there because of golf and it’s not to be a pro; it’s just to be able to play the game, network and have fun,” said Abramowitz, who learned the game while growing up in Northern Rhodesia.

One of Pastoral’s playing partners, Akwele Lokko, 13, of Union, N.J., had a lot of fun during her round.

“I was very excited when I hit it out of the bunker and got it very close to the flag,” she said. “I was very impressed because I didn’t know I could hit a shot like that.”

Jordan Schwartz is the creative and content lead for the USGA Foundation. Email him at jschwartz@usga.org