ST. GEORGE — Ashleigh Peterson paid half-attention as her father pointed out the intricacies of the sport happening in front of her.
Ryan, holding his 7-year-old daughter’s pair of clubs and parading her along the golf cart path of the Copper Rock Golf Course, told her about golf’s scoring, what the different parts of the hole were and other details. She watched along — sometimes. Other times she played with the grass.
Still, for Ryan, it was an important experience to be able to share with his daughter.
“I think we love the opportunity, especially for girls, to see professionals and see this opportunity to realize she can learn a sport at this age that she could play for the rest of her life, take her to college, take her across the world,” Peterson told St. George News. “With a good athletic build, you can really go a long way. To even just see it’s an option is really fun.”
The Petersons, relocated from Denver, have seen their options in the professional sports market shrink and disappear. Southern Utah isn’t home to many professional events. It doesn’t have a representative in the four major American sports. It hasn’t had a minor or independent team in more than a decade.
Opportunities to demonstrate to local youth, especially young girls, that professional sports exist are more often than not relegated to a trip out of town.
The Copper Rock Championship, the fourth leg of the Symetra Tour that is the developmental league for the LPGA Tour, brought some of the world’s top players to Hurricane, a proverbial backyard for people like the Petersons and other Southern Utahns.
Ashleigh and Ryan followed the day’s top group, final-day leader Bailey Tardy of Georgia, Maude-Aimee Leblanc of Canada and Elin Arvidsson of Sweden. The tournament featured a field of 120 players spanning 30 countries as they vouched for qualification in the LPGA Tour.
It was a glimpse into a world that, still foreign to the area, is becoming much more familiar in Southern Utah. The region’s golf reputation is growing. The welcoming of the LGPA is a part of that.
The tour also gave some local ties a pro shot as well.
Haley Sturgeon, a Dixie State graduate and an alumnus of the golf program there, was given a special exemption to become the event’s lone Utah-born participant. Kendra Dalton, a former BYU golfer turned pro, would migrate with the Cougars south every season to the area for training.
“St. George will always be a special place to me,” Dalton said. “We don’t often get to play ‘at home’ and so to be in Utah, which is definitely a second home to me, is special.”
Dalton finished at +7 to tie for 45th in the tournament. Sturgeon was +5 at the end of the second day and was cut.
Tardy finished -10 to win the event and the $30,000 first-place purse as the three-day event concluded on Saturday afternoon.
The Copper Rock Championship will return to the Symetra Tour in 2022 and 2023.
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