10/18/04 — Golfing Duo get Optimistic on Florida trip

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Golfing Duo get Optimistic on Florida trip

By David Williams
Published in Sports on October 18, 2004 1:55 PM

Two local golfers got a chance of a lifetime this past summer -- to play golf on one of the country's most prestigious courses against a field of top teenage golfers from 30 countries.

And they both had the local Optimist Club to thank for it.

Jonathan Burke and Justin Smith spent late July taking part in the Optimist International Junior Golf championships at the PGA National Resort and Spa at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. They were among 750 golfers from all over the world who came to Florida after performing well at qualifying tournaments earlier in the year.

Dustin Smith

Dustin Smith

Jonathan Burke

Jonathan Burke

The road to the Florida dream trip began in January with Louwanna Pender, who at the time was the president of the Goldsboro Optimist Club. The Optimist International tournament is a project of Optimist, and Pender joined in with her husband, Gary, who is Lieutenant governor for Zone 3 of North Carolina East Optimists, and Jackie Young, the secretary-treasurer of the local Optimist Club, along with several other club members.

Pender sought out the local course pros to find eligible candidates interested in taking part. In the end, she found four who not only fit the criteria for golf, but also for the academic standards prescribed by Optimist.

Burke and Smith were selected to play in the boys 16-18 division, while Will Vinson was picked for boys 14-15 and Kelli Forbis was selected for girls 14-15.

The four golfers went to Crooked Creek Country Club in Fuquay-Varina for the qualifying tournament.

Burke shot a 69-77-146 to win his division and earn the spot in the Optimist International field. Burke had his struggles on the unfamiliar layout, taking a pair of eights on the second day after going out of bounds and in the water on the same hole.

"At the time it was the hardest course I had ever played," Burke said. "The elevation drops, and it was tough to play. Every shot was blind."

Smith shot a 82-73-155 at Crooked Creek after taking a 10 on the last hole on the last day. His score was not in the top three, but he won the spot after academic standards eliminated a few competitors.

Vinson shot an 85-84-165 at the regional, while Forbis shot a 94-93-187. Both gave good efforts, but missed the cut to make the trip.

With their spots in the field secured, both boys now had to raise the money to make the trip a reality. The local Optimists did their part, raising funds and receiving donations from other are Optimist Clubs to defray expenses for the boys.

Once in Florida, Burke and Smith were taking on a course that once hosted the PGA Championship.

"It was the best course I have ever played," Burke said. "It's a shot-makers course. If you can keep it in the fairway, you were fine, but there was a lot of water and out of bounds areas."

Smith said he enjoyed playing with golfers from all over the world.

"One of the players in our group spoke no English at all," he said. "But we all got used to each other and we had a good time."

Burke said one in his group was from Thailand and spoke only a little English.

"The Bermuda greens were something I was not used to," said Burke. "The bent grass greens we have here won't survive in Florida."

Burke ended up shooting 80-73-79 for a 232, tied for 52nd and one stroke off the top 50. Smith had an 80-77-77 for a 234 that tied him for 67th.

"To have one of our local golfers come within one stroke of the top 50 in a tournament like this really speaks for the young men we sent down there, and for the tournament," said Louwanna Pender. "Jonathan and Dustin did us all proud."

While Smith is now older than 18 and has aged out of the field, Burke is anxiously awaiting his next chance to return to the Optimist International.

"I really want to go back," he said.