Coach Rick with scholarship awardees Ashley Thompson (L) and Erin Campbell (R)

Coach Rick with scholarship awardees Ashley Thompson (L) and Erin Campbell (R)

The Lake Junaluska Girls Junior Golf Association enjoyed a special play day and celebration Saturday, Aug. 9. LJGJGA members and their parents enjoyed a fun family nine-hole play day followed by a cookout at the Lake Junaluska Pro Shop/Clubhouse to honor recipients of the Laura Constance Golf Scholarship. The LJGJGA with its play days and clinics and the Laura Constance scholarship are testimony to the sweat, tears, laughter, hard work and encouragement of Rick Constance. Constance’s official title at Lake Junaluska is General Manager/Golf Professional/Superintendent and Hot Dog Griller. It’s easy to see that Constance will do whatever it takes to ensure “his” girls enjoy their time on the links.

The junior program began in 2010 with a handful of girls and has seen more than 150 girls register for the program. While many present and past LJGJGA members credit the program for inspiring them to learn and play the game of golf, Constance said it was one of the girls that inspired him to create the program.

Constance is no stranger to junior golf. His daughter Laura and son Christian both played golf for Tuscola High. He said he remembered watching Ashley Thompson coming out of middle school, “I was afraid she was going to put her clubs up,” he said. Constance said he went to Thompson’s parents and asked them if Ashley liked golf and might enjoy the opportunity to play more. “They told me, she loves golf,” said Constance, and that spring, May 2010, the LJGJGA was born and a small group of girls began clinics and play days at Lake Junaluska. Thompson holds LJGJGA membership card No. 1.

That inaugural LJGJGA group included four girls from Pisgah High School, Thompson, a sophomore and three seniors. Constance had so much confidence in the girls’ games that they all “walked-on” at Pisgah High School. That school year (2010-2011) Constance and his LJGJGA girls began a brand new tradition at Pisgah High – Girls Golf. I think Constance had to reprint his business cards at that time to: General Manager/Golf Professional/Superintendent/Hot Dog Griller/High School Coach.

Thompson had a stellar career at Pisgah, where she set all county records for high school girls; was named All-Western North Carolina Athletic Conference;  was winner of the 1-A/2-A Western Regional and fifth in the state tournament.

Thompson continued to “walk,” walking on at Western Carolina University as a freshman last year and, continued her exemplary play earning a scholarship this year. She was also one of this year’s Laura Constance scholarship awards. The other recipient was Erin Campbell of Franklin High School. Campbell qualified three times for the  2-A North Carolina State Championship and she has been awarded a golf scholarship at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.

Constance teared up a little when he awarded Campbell and Thompson their $1,000 scholarships named for his daughter Laura. The scholarships are for girls who participate in the LJGJGA and play collegiate golf. Constance thanked LJGJGA volunteers and supporters like Ray Spires and Bill and Mary Easton who help support the program and the scholarships.

The program is one of a kind – outstanding in it’s simplicity and clarity of mission – introducing girls aged 5 – 17 to the game of golf. There is a $25 dollar one-time membership fee that is good till the member graduates from high school. The program even assists in providing clubs if they are needed and the only other cost is a $5 cart fee on play days. “We don’t want cost to be a factor,” said Constance.

The LJGJGA begins each spring with a series of clinics, where the girls get instruction on swing, putting and golf etiquette. It then progresses to weekly play days, where the girls go out and play “captain’s choice” for about an hour and a half, getting in as many holes as possible.

There’s never any pressure on the girls to perform – they are out there to enjoy the game. “I remind everybody that golf is what you want it to be,” Constance said.

Sure, there will be the Thompsons and the Campbells out there, the few that go on to play competitively at some level and they benefit greatly from the program. There will also be those out there who may become weekend warriors or occasional players who see golf as good times with friends and those girls get the same instruction and the same encouragement from someone who truly believes – golf is what you want it to be.