Prep sports • In six years, participation has skyrocketed.
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To swing away, or perfect her swing?
Alex Larsen had a decision to make.
The Skyline High student made her school's softball team as a freshman, but she also earned a spot on the Eagles' golf team and a chance to play a sport that had been sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association only two years earlier.
Skyline coach Brodie Reid thinks his top golfer, now a senior and a two-time region MVP, made the right choice.
"Girls were nervous to play because they didn't know what to expect," he said. "[Alex] is one of the girls who has watched it really grow."
In six years as a sanctioned high school sport in Utah, girls' golf has taken significant strides, growing from a pilot program of 35 golfers to more than 1,000 participants this year.
"The first year I did this to now is just night and day," said Reid, who has coached the Eagles to six straight region titles. "For the first couple of years, at least here at Skyline, we were just teaching how to swing a club. A lot of them were beginners. The last three years, they've come and they know how to play. Now we're coaching … how to attack a course, not just how to hit the ball."
In the early days, Reid said he was stuck between creating competition and trying not to scare away potential golfers. "We were running into AP testing, dance company, cheer tryouts. As a coach, it was like, how hard do you push? We were just trying to fill the squad," he said.
Now Reid sees as many as 30 girls at his spring tryouts.
The growth around the state has been significant enough to create a number of changes.
This year for the first time, the UHSAA will host a separate tournament for 1A and 2A golfers. In Classes 3A, 4A, and 5A, the association has expanded the state tournament from four to six golfers per team.
"We're really encouraged. In our larger classes, we anticipated it would pick up quickly," UHSAA assistant director Kevin Dustin said. "Where we're really surprised is in some of our smaller classifications."
At Bingham High, already a state powerhouse, coach Liz Conry said the next step for girls' golf is improving the level of competition across the board. The Miners have won three state titles in a row, and Sirene Blair, Sam Crawford and Elena Pittenger could very well finish as the top three golfers in this week's state tournament.
"I think the competition is getting better, but I don't think it's anywhere where it should be," Conry said. "A lot of these girls are picking up their clubs when the season starts and putting them down when the season ends."
Conry credits the arrival of Blair, a senior headed to San Diego State next year on a golf scholarship, for turning her team into a state powerhouse.
"She has done nothing but boost up the level of play," Conry said. "When you see somebody hit perfect shot after perfect shot, it's like how does she do that? But then they see the hard work she invests. We'll finish practice and she'll stick around and the other girls want to stick around."
Annie Fisher, of the PGA's Utah section, encourages some patience for a young sport that has already taken major strides.
"I have had a lot of people tell me they have girls playing golf that never would have if the sport was not sanctioned," she said. "Some of those girls would never play any sport at all, so it's given them confidence. The quality in the girls' scores is getting better each year, too. It is an exciting time in Utah golf."
Girls' state golf
Glen Eagle Golf Course, Monday, 9 a.m.
The Barn Golf Course, Wednesday, 9 a.m.
Schneiter's Riverside, Thursday, 9 a.m.
Lakeside Golf Course, Tuesday, 9 a.m.
Rose Park Golf Course, Wednesday, 8:30 a.m.