The growth of junior golf over the last two decades has been great. From weekly tournaments, leagues and other options for young players, the sport has seen its popularity blossom.
Ahead of it all was the Southwest Junior Golf Tour.
The first golf tour of its kind for youth players centered in the Medina County area is celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer, and co-founders Derek Smith and Dave Moskal have been at the forefront since the beginning.
From around 50 players at the beginning to now over 100 from seven counties, the tour for boys and girls ages 12-18 created a venue for junior golf competition.
“The big thing from the past 20 years is watching the growth of junior golf,” Smith said. “I don’t know how much we have contributed to it. There were so few tournaments when we started and now there are all kinds of opportunities, so the fact that we’ve been a part of it after 20 years, that’s unbelievable.”
Little did Smith and Moskal know that an idea that they bounced around in 1994 would grow from a handful of events to a schedule that currently features 13 tournaments at 17 different local courses.
“It’s nothing short of spectacular,” said Moskal, a PGA professional. “It’s been a joy and rewarding to see the kids’ growth, just watching a kid from the first event to the fifth or sixth event and see the confidence go up. That’s all positive. We’re hoping for 20 more years.”
It’s been a labor of love for Smith and Moskal, who had their children participate.
Moskal’s daughter Kelly, who is now known as Kelly Smith, was a four-year letterwinner for Brunswick’s boys team in the late 1990s, since the school did not have a girls squad at the time.
She won the 1996 Ohio High School Athletic Association’s girls state individual championship in a sudden-death playoff and was a two-time Academic All-American at Ohio State.
Dave Moskal was quick to point out his daughter was just one of a host of female players that used the SWGT as a springboard.
“One of our major accomplishments is that our tour really catapulted girls golf,” he said. “For Kelly, it was a great vehicle for her to play collegiately.”
Current LPGA touring professional Kathleen Ekey also got her start in the tour, winning the 11-year-old division in 1997. That paved the way for players like Hinckley Township residents Jackie Studor and Jessica Porvasnik, who had standout high school careers for North Royalton and Highland, respectively.
Porvasnik, who like Moskal will golf for Ohio State this fall, was the Division I medalist this past fall by seven strokes as the Hornets finished runner-up as a team.
“They put the work in,” Smith said. “We just gave them the opportunity. The result of our tour is in August and September when we open up the newspaper and see the kids on our tour leading their school teams.
“They worked hard all June and July and it carries over. If we helped with that at all, that’s a big reward.”
The SWGT, which will conclude its season Monday with the annual Founders Cup Tournament at Medina Country Club, has added numerous events to the schedule. Included are four two-day events, a member-adult championship in late June and three-day Match Play Championship.
It’s seen the start of successful careers on the boys side for the Koch brothers — Josh, Bobby and Spencer — of Medina, along with players like Michael Trivisonno, who went on to lead Gilmour Academy to a state championship.
Hinckley Township’s Matt Jordan is another one of those success stories, as the former local standout is currently the head pro at Streamsong Resort in Florida.
“It’s rewarding,” Moskal said of watching their careers. “That separates us. … It’s fun, but it’s serious competition and we want them to learn the right way to play. It’s been an amazing run so far.”
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.