Going to a combined boys-girls format boosts the Jacksonville Beach Varsity Invitational


They dodged the rain and battled the wind to finish off a glorious late-summer Florida evening as more than six dozen First Coast High School golfers made history at the Jacksonville Beach Golf Club on Saturday.

Bolles won the overall tag team title at the third annual Jacksonville Beach Varsity Invitational, hosted by Providence, with Ponte Vedra second and Nease third. It was the first time the boys’ and girls’ scores had been tallied together in an area high school tournament, with the boys’ and four girls’ low scores being added together to arrive at an overall champion.

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Bolles won the boys’ title at 8 of 292 and his 316 by girls was second behind Ponte Vedra (307). But the combination gave the Bulldogs a 608, passing Ponte Vedra by 13 shots.

Bolles’ depth paved the way. Dylan Ma led the Bulldogs with a 1 of 72, Luke Balskiewicz and Andrew Mogan each shot 73 and Andrew Kunkle added a 74.

Madison Balskiewicz, Violet Robbins and Chloe McGrath all shot 78 for the Bolles girls.

Episcopal’s Cam Goldkopf was the boys’ medalist with a 70 and Fernandina Beach’s Sadaly Campbell won the girls’ individual with a 73.

Rave reviews

There have been swimming meets in the past where the boys’ and girls’ results have been mixed for a single champion team. But this is a first in golf.

“We loved it,” said Emma Wells, a junior from Providence. “We don’t see the boys playing at all, with different schedules, let alone playing in the same tournament. I think it will bring the teams together.

The Saturday afternoon event also allowed many parents and other loved ones to see the student-athletes compete, instead of scrambling to get off work on a weekday.

“We’ve heard enough to want to continue like this in the future,” said Providence girls coach Dena Turner. “I think everyone likes the idea and we have the right support system. It’s great for families to combine the tournament and have a course like Jacksonville Beach, let us play on a Saturday. Now we have parents, grandparents and friends who can watch the kids play.

“Something different, something really exciting,” said Bolles girls’ coach Deb Caruso.

Different tees equalized it

Six schools sent full teams of boys and girls to the tournament: Providence, Ponte Vedra, Bolles, Nease, Fernandina Beach and Episcopal. Creekside and Beachside had a full contingent of male players.

Individuals from the men’s teams of Fletcher and Middleburg and the women’s teams of Beachside, Lake City Columbia, Fletcher, St. Johns Country Day and St. Joseph Academy also played.

The boys played 6,280 yards and the girls 5,700 yards at the par-71 club.

The combination of boys and girls was discussed shortly after last year’s event (won by the Bolles girls) when Duke Butler III, who is a volunteer coach for junior players, brought up the subject with the manager. General of Jacksonville Beach, Bruce Mohler.

“Duke was a big part of helping us get this tournament started, with rules and structure and what it takes to have a good event,” Turner said. “He said to make it bigger and better, and that was to invite the boys.”

Providence High School's Emma Wells hits her first tee shot Saturday at the Jacksonville Beach Varsity Invitational at the Jacksonville Beach Golf Club.

Ponte Vedra boys’ coach Mickey Leapley said it also offered a chance for more camaraderie between the boys’ and girls’ teams at each school. Most of them have separate workout schedules and routines and rarely interact with each other on the golf course.

“It’s a great opportunity for kids from the same school to get to know each other better in a tournament setting,” Leapley said.

“They all go to the same school and they know each other, but they’re almost never on the golf course at the same time,” Bolles boys’ coach Trey Leonard said.

A family day

The competition also brought together family members. For the first time, Bolles senior Madison Balskiewicz and her brother, second Luke Balaskiewicz, were teammates.

But their mother said they would compare the scorecards.

“They’ve been competitive with each other since Luke was 5 and Madison was 7 and I would take them to the practice green in Jacksonville [Golf and Country Club] and hold chipping contests,” said Kim Balaskiewicz, who has won numerous club championships and invitationals in the region. “Of course, I wouldn’t let them beat me. But it’s fun to watch them play on the same team for a change, even though they’re at the same school.

The idea of ​​both genders competing on the same golf course (using different tees) is not a new concept when it comes to organizing. The PGA of America allowed women’s club and teaching professionals to compete in PGA Chapter and Section tournaments, with women playing on a course representing 85% of the men’s yardage.

Indeed, First Coast PGA members such as Jennifer Borocz and Stephanie Connelly-Eiswerth have won North Chapter events under these competitive conditions and in 2003 Suzy Whaley, the current PGA of America President, won qualified for the PGA Tour Travelers Championship by winning a Section Championship. in Connecticut.

“The PGA has shown that you can run successful championships with men and women in the same fields,” said Russ Libby, volunteer assistant golf coach at Bolles, owner of Hidden Hills Golf Club and longtime officer of the PGA of America. “That’s the beauty of golf. The handicap system and the different starts make everything fair.

What about the future?

So why hasn’t this been done so far and why would it be difficult to do more of this in the future at the secondary level?

Access to golf courses is the main reason.

“It’s hard enough to get club tee times for nine-hole tournaments, boys or girls,” Caruso said. “If you double that and go 18 holes, it’s very difficult for courses in this economy. Moreover, it is a time factor. The kids come out of class and you have to be on the course at 4:30 p.m. just to get in nine holes.

Finley Leburn of Ponte Vedra High tees off the ninth green at the Jacksonville Beach Golf Club on Saturday during the Jacksonville Beach Varsity Invitational.

Among the wrinkles that could be mentioned before next year, there is the quartet game, with two boys and two girls. On Saturday, the boys and girls again played separately, in a trio, on either side of the course.

“I think it would be really cool to play in the same group with two of our guys,” said Sofia Davila of Episcopal. “It would make both teams feel even closer.”

Jax Beach steps up

The tournament was also another example of Jacksonville Beach offering its course to inclusive events.

The municipal course hosts the Jacksonville Area Golf Association Family Championship in December, with family pairs competing on equal terms, regardless of gender.

And in 2020, when it hosted the JAGA Amateur, three players participated in the event for the first time in history, Bolles graduate Tori Mouton, Fletcher graduate Hannah Stevens and 2019 USA Amateur Champion Gabriela Ruffles.

“The city has given us carte blanche to host tournaments here however we see fit and I think it’s fair to see that we’re taking every opportunity we have to be inclusive,” Mohler said. “By definition, as a municipal court, we have to cater to all demographics. This is what will make golf grow, open up to everyone as much as possible.

Turner said junior golf on the First Coast at all levels has been able to count on Mohler’s support, since he helped lead the hugely popular back to school when he was at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club .

“Bruce Mohler does more for junior golf than any general manager in this town,” Turner said. “We will have his support as long as we want to keep having this tournament.”

Jacksonville Beach College Invitational

At Jacksonville Beach Golf Club (par-71, 6,280 yards for boys, 5,700 yards for girls)

General Championship

Bolles 608, 2. Ponte Vedra 621, 3. Nease 643, 4. Episcopal 647, 5. Providence 716, 6. Fernandina Beach 803.

girls championship

Ponte Vedra (307): Nancy Cox 74, Stella Moritz 77, Lauren Barned 78, Alexandra Drum 78, Tory Barned 87.

Bolles (316): Madison Balaskiewicz 78, Chloe McGrath 78, Violet Robbins 78, Anaiya Nahar 82, Grace Breffitt 85.

Nease (344): Shanya Arasu 79, Nyla Mayers 86, Sophie Cavanagh 87, Gabby Sartori 92, Emma Menzel 106.

Episcopal (346): Sahanna Chokshi 81, Sofia Davila 83, Ella Rhodin 86, Alexis Cattin 96, Isabella Gatewood 98.

Providence (350): Emma Wells 78, Alexa Fallis 81, Emily Burford 85, Jessee Thompson 106, Mia Kemph 116.

Boys Championship

Bolles (292): Dylan Ma 72, Andrew Morgan 73, Luke Balaskiewicz 73, Andrew Kunkle 74, Hudson Bell 84.

Nease (299): Ryan Nicholson 72, Jackson Klauk (75), Ryan Gear 75, Chase McBridge 77, Cooper Diaz 79.

Episcopal (301): Cam Goldknopf 70, Henry Robards 76, Aubrey Fellows 77, Connor Hess 78, John John Pacjic 83.

Ponte Vedra (314): Finley Lebrun 75, Lucas Slayden 77, Dylan Mason 81, Cameron Rocha 81, Braxton Worley 81.

Beachside (315): Jonah Nacional 76, Brock Wilson 77, Barton Abstein 78, Emmanuel Hakim 85, Tripp Young 96.


Daughters: 1. Maddie Rathjen, Beachside, 76. 2. Danielle Dailey, St. Joseph Academy, 78. 3. Ralienne Nacional, Beachside, 80. 4. Veona Osborne, Lake City Columbia, 81. 5. Addy Vogt, St. Johns Country Day, 85. 6. Mia Diaz, Fletcher 97.

Boys: 1. Chase Carroll, Middleburg 74, 2. Keanu Evans, Fletcher, 76.

Contact Garry Smits at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GSmitter


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