‘The next level of golf’

Published 10:29 pm Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Nansemond River junior Griffin Genier competes on Sunday at Riverfront Golf Club in the College Prep Golf Tour's first event to be held in Suffolk. Genier did the best among four competing Suffolk golfers, finishing ninth out of a field of 50.

Suffolk students do well in College Prep Tour

With their hometown hosting the College Prep Golf Tour for the very first time, four Suffolk youth represented the city well this weekend at the Riverfront Golf Club.

A Nansemond River High School junior wound up in ninth place in the College Prep Golf Tour’s two-day tournament in Suffolk last weekend, and three out of the four Suffolk participants wound up in the top half of finishers.

Competing in the tourney from Suffolk were Alston Newsome, a freshman at Greenbrier Christian Academy; Keith Cooper, a sophomore at Nansemond Suffolk-Academy; Griffin Genier, a junior at Nansemond River High School; and Fletcher Stephens, a senior at King’s Fork High School.

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Steven Hornsby said he founded the College Prep Golf Tour because of his son.

“I had a junior golfer, and there weren’t really enough junior golf competitions, particularly once you got out of the summer season,” he said. “They just completely stopped, and I wanted to create something where he could continue to play.”

Hornsby began organizing tournaments back in 2003.

“And then, as it kind of evolved along, we started getting better and better kids and kids from all over the state, and we wanted to give them a chance if they wanted to play college golf, to create a format that the college coaches would pay attention to,” he said.

Making the coaches pay attention involved holding two-day events because colleges want to see high school kids put together good back-to-back rounds. It also involved picking high level, challenging courses — like at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club and King’s Mill Resort — and playing appropriate distances on a course. Finally, college coaches need to be made aware of players’ scores and hole-by-hole statistics, which Hornsby provides via a database of college coaches.

The collegiate response to the tour has been strong since the tour switched to this format in 2010.

“We’re up to close to about 60 players playing college golf at almost every college and university in the state right now,” he said. “A lot of those kids may have played in my tour before I even called it College Prep, because I only called it that three years ago.”

Alston Newsome was grateful for the opportunity to compete in the event and cited the benefits that can come from it.

“It just prepares you for the next level of golf,” he said. “It gives you better chances to go to better places.”

Newsome was competing in the tour for the first time.

“I usually don’t play in these, but I just came out today for some winter experience and just keeping my tournament experience up,” he said.

He finished the two-day event tied for 13th out of 50 golfers with a score of 162.

Keith Cooper’s father, Kevin, said his son has been with the tour for two or three years, which has helped him develop camaraderie with other competitors from around Virginia.

“It gives him a real good chance of gauging himself against some of the other better high school players in the area,” he said.

The tour represents a challenge to his son, who was named Most Valuable Player by NSA’s 2012 state championship team.

“One year ago, I couldn’t play in these tournaments,” Keith Cooper said. “It was like one-days, and I kept winning all of them. And now I come out here, I have to try my hardest and work hard.”

Cooper finished this past weekend tied for 15th with a score of 163.

Griffin Genier appreciated the opportunity the tour represents.

“This is what most people do that want to play college golf, play on these types of tours, and that’s what I want to do, so it’s big time to play on this type of tour like this,” he said.

Genier started playing on Hornsby’s tour in March 2012. He did the best of the four Suffolk players last weekend, placing ninth with a score of 159.

Fletcher Stephens was referred to the tour by his father, Robert, and his coach at King’s Fork, Calvin Mitchell.

“I look at this as just another way of (practicing), as well as everybody else, but I’m also competing too,” Stephens said.

His father has enjoyed the effect the game and the tour have had on his son.

“It’s actually fun, because it’s not just about the game, it’s watching the kids mature, because golf is about discipline,” Robert Stephens said. “And I’ve watched him mature to a level you wouldn’t believe as a result of the game.”

Stephens, entering his second year on the tour, has aspirations to play golf at James Madison University. He had a rough tournament, particularly with a cold first day that featured a frost delay, finishing with a two-day score of 216 to place 34th.

Hornsby enjoyed the experience this past weekend and was already planning future visits to Suffolk.

“I’m most likely going to be back here next year for this again, because this has worked out great, but we may try a warm-weather event out here, too,” he said.