Monday, Jan. 19, 2009 | 1 a.m.
One of the founding fathers of junior golf in Southern Nevada has been honored for more than 30 years of contributions.
Joe Kelly, the president of the board of directors for the First Tee of Southern Nevada, was named the Junior Golf Leader of the Year for the southwest section of the PGA last month. The southwest section includes all candidates from Nevada and Arizona.
"For me, junior golf is about giving back to the community and helping our young kids learn the game while growing up to be quality people," Kelly, 57, said. "So it's nice to be recognized for that by your peers, other golf pros and their families. It was more for being a lifelong junior golf promoter and working to make it a better organization."
The timing of the award was appropriate as junior golf recently celebrated its 30-year anniversary in Southern Nevada.
Kelly, along with four other local golf professionals, began the Southern Nevada Junior Golf Association in 1978. At that time, parents who wanted their children to play competitive golf tournaments were forced to commute to Southern California.
"There was nothing to offer as far as junior golf in Vegas," said Kelly, the director of golf at Sun City Summerlin. "So a few of us pros started talking about getting together to get our kids some competition. We put together the organization and started to conduct golf events and clinics for them, and it kept growing from there."
Kelly, a pro at the Desert Inn Country Club at the time, said the association began with about 40 children. About seven years ago, it merged with the Inner-City Junior Golf Association and formed the First Tee of Southern Nevada, which today boasts more than 3,000 kids.
"It's kind of like the growth of Las Vegas," Kelly said. "To look back and see where we were 30 years ago to now with the amount of kids in golf, it's a great feeling to know we've done good. As a parent, you know if your kid is at the course, they are learning skills and becoming a better person than if they were on the street somewhere."
Kelly's primary responsibilities with the First Tee of Southern Nevada is help raise money for its annual budget of about $900,000 through various fund raisers and donations.
"I also work with local PGA pros to give us chances to play and practice at their courses," he said. "We're only as good as the courses we can get for these kids to use at reasonable rates."
Danielle Gladd, the executive director for the First Tee of Southern Nevada, said it was appropriate for Kelly to earn the award during the 30th year of junior golf in the state.
"He has worked hard his whole career to promote junior, so I don't know of anyone else that is more deserving," Gladd said. "Joe has been such an intricate part of junior golf in this community."
Kelly is now a finalist for the national PGA Junior Golf Leader of the Year.
Mike Davis, the President of the Southern Nevada PGA, nominated Kelly for the southwest section and believes Kelly has a chance at the national honor, to be announced later this year.
"Joe has made great contributions for junior golf for a while and one thing they look for is longevity," Davis said. "He is the president of the First Tee of Southern Nevada, which is the largest First Tee chapter of 206 chapters in the world. So he's had a significant part in the growth of the First Tee organization."
Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or [email protected].