The Natural Resource Partners Bluegrass Junior remains a popular stop for young golf talent as well as American Junior Golf Association staff that operate the event.
Now 28 years old, the tournament returns to Bellefonte Country Club this week. A 144-player field includes age 12-18 golfers from 22 states plus Canada, Thailand, China, Japan, Colombia, Germany, South Korea and Malaysia.
Tournament Director Greg Sanfilippo said he is happy to be back at the NRP Bluegrass Junior after serving as an AJGA intern here in 2005.
“You can talk about the hospitality, what the committee does for players and parents, or the organization and dedicated support,” Sanfilippo said. “Those things set it apart. That’s why the AJGA is still here. Just to be part of this is special for me.”
The NRP Bluegrass Junior received the AJGA’s Tournament of the Year Award for 2009.
Jeff Conley, who works for the tournament’s title sponsor, is in his fourth year as tournament chairman with his wife, Barbara.
“I appreciate the fact Nick Carter (Natural Resource Partners president) lets me do all the things I need to make this tournament first class,” Conley said.
Carter volunteers his own time by driving a van to shuttle participants, parents and spectators between Bellefonte Country Club and tournament parking site Bridges Christian Church.Last year, the tournament gave $28,000 to local high school golf programs, assisted area golfers with Yancey Scholarships and also contributed to the Eastern Kentucky Junior Golf Association.
Conley is looking forward to another year of continued success for the NRP Bluegrass Junior.
“The kids that come here to play are the best caliber from our area, surrounding states and the world,” Conley said. “The international flavor we are starting to get is really something. The fact they are coming to Bellefonte to play says a lot.”
Some of the tournament’s past players include Steve Flesch, Jim Furyk, Charles Howell III, Matt Kuchar, Brittany Lincicome, Michelle McGann and Cheyenne Woods.
On Monday, an 18-hole qualifier will round out the field for the main event. The three-day tournament opens Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. Admission is free.
Defending girls champion Emma Talley of Princeton, Ky., turned down an invitation to the Rolex Girls Junior Championship to make her fourth appearance in the NRP Bluegrass Junior. Talley, who verbally committed to Alabama, is 39th in the Polo Golf Rankings.
She also won the AJGA Huntsville Junior last year and represented the U.S. in the 2010 Junior Ryder Cup.
Two players to watch in the boys’ division are Haoyuan Lu, who has five top-10 finishes in two years of AJGA events, and Wesley Gosselin of Knoxville. Gosselin tied for sixth here last year.
The Ashland Blazer boys golf team has four team members in the field — Jeff Meade, Drew Rothenstine, Nick Blankenship and Patrick Taft.
Joining them will be Russell’s Jacob Porter, South Shore’s Hannah Sublett and Paintsville’s Ale Walker.
After two days of competition, the tournament field will be cut to a minimum of 50 percent for Friday’s final round.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.