Like many children in the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Cesar Balgañon II did not grow up with easy access to golf.
“I think back to when I first got involved in golf,” said Balgañon, a PGA Associate and First Assistant Golf Professional at Sewailo Golf Club in Tucson, Arizona. “I played a scramble at a facility in town and thought, ‘They actually make places like this?’ Now I’m showing kids that we have this facility right next door, and they can experience that same kind of emotion and introduction to the game.”
Balgañon and fellow PGA Associate and Sewailo Golf Club Assistant Golf Professional Gregg Tobias kicked off their inaugural PGA Jr. League season during an arguably bizarre and difficult year. Thinking they’d sign up seven, maybe eight kids in 2020, they wrapped up registration with 25 new faces––all of whom are from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and have never touched a golf club.
“Once Anthony [Vitale, PGA Member and Regional League Manager for the Colorado, Southwest, Sun Country and Utah Sections] got in touch about the opportunity of scholarships, I reached out to gyms, health centers, and even the casino employees,” said Balgañon, who is aptly pursuing advertising within the Executive Management path in the PGA Golf Management Program. “Gregg and I both lead a diabetes prevention program for tribal juniors, and that was a great lead into PGA Jr. League, too.”
As the flagship youth pillar program of the PGA of America’s 501(c)(3) foundation, PGA REACH, efforts are focused on making PGA Jr. League accessible to every child, everywhere. Ultimately, the Sewailo Golf Club PGA Jr. League program wouldn’t be a success without the DICK’S Sporting Goods Sports Matter Foundation’s significant contributions to funding PGA Jr. League scholarships through PGA REACH. Plus, the program also had the full support of Sewailo Golf Club General Manager Laura Beuhring, PGA, who purchased golf clubs and gloves for the players.
“Given the parameters of the scholarships, we got them to the right families,” said Balgañon. “The parents really appreciate the opportunity, and I get emails from them about it all the time.”
Balgañon and Tobias truly make a perfect pairing. While Balgañon focuses his efforts on marketing and leveraging promotional materials available to all Captains and Coaches through the Captain Resource Center, Tobias––who is pursuing the Teaching & Coaching path in the PGA Golf Management Program––lends his coaching expertise to the program and leads players with care.
“The kids have really been engaged in the program,” said Tobias. “It always makes you feel better when a kid says, ‘Hey coach, that was a great class,’ especially when they’re new to the game.”
Tobias’ favorite thing to see is what he calls “the lightbulb moment” with his PGA Jr. League players. Balgañon and Tobias tell the story of a small young boy, Esaiel Romero, who constantly asks questions and truly has a passion for the game, running over to ask his coach if he saw his swing from the other side of the range. They talk about Micaela Andrade, a girl with a natural talent for golf who lowers her own bar if her friends aren’t playing as well (something Tobias is coaching her through).
“I love the interactions with the kids themselves, as well as between the kids and coaches,” said Tobias. “I love the learning process itself. I like seeing the light go on.”
That lightbulb moment even extends to the adults. Despite many having no familiarity with golf, the parents became intrinsically involved with PGA Jr. League. From taking temperatures and ensuring kids physically distance themselves, to simply spectating and taking pictures, they’ve loved every minute of the experience.
“A lot of the families don’t know the game of golf, or they know about it but never thought they’d be involved,” adds Tobias. “Now they’re seeing their kids learn something new and really accomplish it.”
One day, the two hope to offer group lessons or clinics to Pascua Yaqui Tribe adults, employees of Casino Del Sol and to members of the Pascua Yaqui Government. Sewailo Golf Club makes the game accessible through discounts for tribal members.
For now, they’re focused on providing the best experience possible for their PGA Jr. League players. And they’re not resting on their 2020 laurels.
“There are so many other juniors I want to get in the program,” added Balgañon. “Other parents have reached out, and hopefully we can make it bigger and better next season!”