Kansas Golf Foundation program has ties in western Kansas





For a few hours last Wednesday, Salina native and now Kansas City resident Bryan Norton, was back in southwest Kansas to renew acquaintances with the golfing community that created some fond memories for the former PGA Tour professional.

Norton made the nearly 400-mile trip to Garden City on Wednesday for the 34th Southwest Kansas Pro-Am Corporate Sponsor party as one of three representatives of the Kansas Golf Foundation, the only charitable 501(c)(3) organization solely dedicated to golf in Kansas.

Joining Norton, who won the Pro-Am in 1986, was KGF Executive Director Phil Miller, a Parsons native and now Kansas City resident, and local businessman and KGF Trustee Sean Thayer, like Norton a former Kansas Amateur golf champion.

The primary purpose for Norton and Miller, a volunteer staffer, to be in town and to be a sponsor of this year's Pro-Am was to do outreach as a way of promoting and informing the golf community in southwest Kansas about the Kansas Junior Golf Scholarship program, which began in 2005 and to date has funded scholarships to 45 young men and women who have attended 15 Kansas colleges, ranging from community colleges, vocational schools to major universities.

Since the program's inaugural year, approximately $190,000 has been awarded to deserving young people who have either played golf in high school, or played competitive golf.

Current scholars with a southwest Kansas connection include Adam Zuzelski of Syracuse, a pre-med major at the University of Kansas who plans to become a family practitioner and return to his hometown one day to practice medicine.

"Adam is the second from his family to be a scholarship recipient," Miller said of Zuzelski. "His brother, Tommy, was one of our first scholars. They come from an outstanding family and they demonstrate all the attributes we look for in our scholars."

Each year, qualified candidates must submit an application for the $1,250 annual scholarship which is renewable for four years as long as they maintain a 2.5 GPA.

The KGF Trustees then review the applications and recipients are judged based on their academic record, community service, letters of recommendation and financial need, which is as important as anything, according to Miller.

"These are kids who are scrambling to put together packages of financial aid — from grants, to loans to any kind of scholarship that will help them get through college," Miller said. "All of them are really good students. They have to write an annual report every spring for the Foundation board to review, stating what they've done, what their plans are. We also engage them in some of our summer outreach programs, and let them tell their story."

For Norton, who now serves as the KGF President after becoming a Trustee in 2008, this is his way of giving back to a game and a cause that has been good to him throughout his amateur and professional career.

"I've always been interested in giving back to the community and to golf, but I hadn't really found that one cause that really clicked for me," Norton said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "Some of the other charitable groups that I was involved in, I wasn't as interested or as valuable. With the Kansas Golf Foundation, I just feel it's something I can really contribute to in a specific way. It's been a fun thing for me."

During his brief stay in Garden City, Norton was able to see many familiar faces, some of whom were involved with the Pro-Am all those 27 years ago when he won the seventh title. He is one of eight Kansans to have claimed the title.

"The last time I played at Buffalo Dunes and Southwind was the year I won," Norton recalled. "They are two outstanding golf courses. But the thing that always stuck out for me and others was just how friendly and helpful the people were. I grew up in Salina and I just think western Kansas people are so warm and welcoming.

"Sean (Thayer) has been our eyes and ears out there, but he really said we wanted to have more brand awareness, name recognition, then we needed to be at the Pro-Am. I think we accomplished that and we intend to come back next year and spend even more time and hope to meet more people."

Both Norton and Miller see western Kansans who are golf enthusiasts as potential donors to the scholarship program.

"You've got people who have the passion for golf and in the education of young people and those are the people we want to visit with about supporting the scholarship program," Norton said.

With the current 20 scholarships, the KGF contributes $25,000 each year. Miller said the goal is to raise $1 million which will allow the Foundation to endow the scholarships, which would require a $50,000 contribution for each scholarship. It will also allow them to increase the scholarship to $2,000 per year per student.

"We've raised just about $400,000, so we're about 40 percent toward our goal," Miller said. "We've had some nice events to get things rolling. We started with a donor who gave us $20,000 seed money over four years. We've been fortunate enough to find others who have a similar interest, but now we need to engage more people across the state to raise the money to send these young people to college."

Miller said the success of the program rests with the fact that these are young Kansans, who will attend Kansas schools, and are likely to remain in Kansas once they have completed their education.

"They are more likely to stay in Kansas when they know people here in the state have helped them with their education," Miller said. "We've met a lot of good people and we're looking forward to following up and seeing how much more engaged we can get people here in western Kansas."

The Foundation has two primary purposes — to promote the future and to preserve the history of golf in Kansas. The Junior Golf Scholarship Program accomplishes that first objective while the Kansas Golf Hall of Fame accounts for the second. Since 1991, when the KGA was founded, the Hall of Fame has recognized its great names of the past with induction ceremonies. To date, there have been 39 inductees into the Hall of Fame.

Both Norton and Miller had high praise for Thayer's involvement with the KGF.

"He's been very proactive and he's had some really good ideas," Miller said of Thayer. "The good thing about our program is that deductions are 100 percent tax deductible. People can make one-time contributions or make a pledge over several years. We try to see how it fits for each individual."

Another western Kansas resident, Meghan Houtsma of Syracuse, serves on the Trustees advisory committee. She played high school golf in Syracuse and also played at Baker University in Baldwin.

The latest fund-raising effort involved teams of three golfers attending a golf event earlier this season in which each team had a lottery pick to play one of the top private clubs in the country — places such as Cypress Point Club in California, Chicago Golf Club (a founding USGA member club) and The Country Club at Brookline (Mass.), site of U.S. Opens, PGA Championships and a Ryder Cup. The event raised $140,000 and all proceeds went to the scholarship program.

Current scholars from western Kansas include Marris Bland of Lucas (Colby Community College); Jordan Heck, Russell (Hutchinson Community College); Kaitlynn Walker, Russell (Ottawa University); Brittany Bange, Colby (Fort Hays State); Trey Herman, Hays (Fort Hays State); Kenzi Knobbe, Sharon Springs (Johnson Community College, but former basketball player at Garden City Community College) and Zuzelski, who first attended Dodge City Community College.

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