Mill Creek set to host AJGA event

Brian Tolnar had two goals in mind when he moved back to the Mahoning Valley. He also had a pretty good idea of how to reach those goals and put a plan in place.

In bringing the Mahoning Valley Hospital Foundation American Junior Golf Association All-Star Tournament to Mill Creek Golf Course, he found a way to accomplish those goals.

This week, the Mahoning Valley Hospital Foundation AJGA All-Star Tournament will showcase the best golfers between the ages of 12 and 15 at Mill Creek Golf Course.

“I’m super excited,” said Tolnar, Mill Creek’s PGA Director of Golf. “It took a year for us to land this event for Youngstown. I had the pleasure of working in Rochester and they held one of these events. When I moved back here, they were first people I contacted.

“[The AJGA] wanted to be in the Cleveland-Pittsburgh market,” Tolnar said. “We were able to fulfill that.

“We had two goals. Number one, we wanted to impact the community. Number two, we wanted to showcase Mill Creek Metroparks. This is a great way to accomplish both.”

The tournament opens with a 100-player qualifier beginning today at 8 a.m. with a select number of players earning their way into the field. That number is yet to be determined.

There will be a practice round on Monday between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. leading into a Junior-Am charity tournament beginning at 1:30 p.m. Three local amateurs will be paired with a top-15 player in the world for the event.

“The girls winner will be about 5- or 6-under,” Tolnar said. “The boys winner will be between 7- and 10-under. They’ll shoot good numbers and the course won’t play easy, by any means.

“If we have half of the Big Ten [Conference] here checking out 12-to 15-years-olds, it’s pretty big. It’s pretty big if we’re getting Oklahoma State, UCLA, Texas to fly in. These kids can hit the ball a mile. They chip and putt like wizards. They’re really fun to watch.”

The field will include golfers from all over the United States and the world.

“There are six Junior All-Star events,” Tolnar said. “They qualify on points. We’re one of six hosting cities. We have a number of kids in from countries outside the United States and states outside of Ohio. Last year, we had kids from 17 countries and 42 states.”

The first round will begin Tuesday at 7 a.m. with pairings being released Monday evening. The field will include 136 players. Round 2 will begin Wednesday at 7 a.m.

“Historically, these events have 96 players,” Tolnar said. “In this area, we have the largest wait list with 70-plus kids [who would like to play in the event]. They expanded the field to 136 players.”

After the first two rounds, the field will be paired down to the top 70 scores and ties for the final round, which will run Thursday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The awards ceremony will follow at 2:30 p.m.

Spectators are welcome throughout the event.

The tournament will impact the Mahoning Valley in a big way, as it did during its first two years in existence. The impact will continue for a minimum of three more years.

“The first two years, this event brought about $755,000 in financial impact to the Mahoning Valley,” Tolnar said. “This year, it’s projected to be about $58,000 more than that. I’m proud of the impact we’re able to have on the community.

“This year, Mike Senchak, CEO of the Mahoning Valley Hospital Foundation, ponied up $110,000 to sponsor the event and signed a four-year deal. About $100,000 will go to the event and about $10,000 will be used for course beautification. This keeps the money in the area. We’re happy to have him here. He ensures this event stays in the area for the next three years.”

The area won’t be the only benefactor of the tournament.

“The AJGA has typically donated about $10,000 to be split between the ACE Grant and the Mill Creek Metroparks Foundation,” Tolnar said. “This year, they’ve told us it will be north of $15,000.”

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