Prestonwood’s Junior Golf Program: A stepping stone to college and beyond

By John Dell

Trying to figure out where former junior golfers from Prestonwood Country Club have landed in college is not easy.

The roster is a big one of former and current college golfers who excelled thanks in large part to getting their start in Prestonwood’s junior program. The sprawling facility in Cary, which has 54 holes and a spacious practice area, has been a hot spot for juniors dabbling in the game for the first time.

“We usually have around 100 juniors in our peak time of the summer,” said Brian Burgwyn, an assistant pro who coordinates the junior program. “We have golf camps throughout the summer, a year-round junior academy and we are usually pretty strong in the junior club team matches.”

Two of Prestonwood’s graduates are Ben Kohles and Brendon Todd, who are separated by four years but are playing pro golf at the highest level. Todd, a former All-American at Georgia, has conditional status on the PGA Tour and Kohles, who won twice on the Tour last season, is in his rookie season on the PGA Tour.

Kohles, 22, who won seven times during his outstanding career at the University of Virginia, is the school’s all-time leader in victories. He graduated last spring and hit the ground running on the Tour, finding immediate success.

He and his family moved to Prestonwood from Dallas when Ben was 10, and a he soon made friends in the junior golf program and fell in love with the game.

“We all kind of just whacked the ball around and it was fun,” Kohles said. “But I think what I liked about the whole experience was once we got a little more serious there were plenty of other kids to compete against. You can only practice for so long, so just going out and playing matches with your friends was a great way to learn.”

What the junior golf program at Prestonwood has also done is kept nearby Green Hope High School fully stocked. There’s a reason Green Hope, which opened in 2001, has won five state championship titles and three players – Todd, Michael Cromie and Kevin O’Connell – all won individual 4-A titles with Todd winning three.

O’Connell played for four seasons at the University of North Carolina and Cromie, who is a senior at Georgia, is one of many of the current players competing in college. Also, Lee Bedford, a former All-American at Wake Forest, is now playing on the Tour, and Zach Edmondson is a senior at East Carolina.

“I went to some summer camps and stuff but I think the biggest thing it did for us was get kids interested in golf,” Bedford said. “Because of that, I always had friends to play and practice with, and we could help each other and everyone could benefit and keep getting better.”

The junior program’s graduates aren’t limited to boys either. Nicole Keyser, a sophomore at Flagler, also got her start at Prestonwood.

Will Thomas is a freshman at UNC-Greensboro and Will Almand is a former player at UNC-Greensboro and is Kohles’ close friend and caddie.

“Will and I first met during those days of junior golf,” Kohles said about Almand. “He was right there with me when we were just out there hitting balls and practicing and playing at Prestonwood.”

Of all the great times Kohles had during his junior golf days what he remembers most was coming home from school, jumping on his bike, and going to the golf course.

“That’s all a lot of us wanted to do was play golf and we’d go to Prestonwood every day that we could,” said Kohles, who also played basketball and soccer before turning to golf exclusively. “It’s funny, but who knows where I’d be if I didn’t start in that junior program and then taking it from there. It was a great time and I’m just fortunate that my family moved there when we did.”

Burgwyn, who has been at Prestonwood since 2005, says that the staff tries to cater to the juniors, and is a major part of the country club’s identity.

“With our facilities, and the people around here and the members we feel like the junior program is a very good asset,” Burgwyn said.

Todd, 27, remembers his days in the junior golf program fondly, mainly because he was able to play and practice with his older brothers.

“We were all out there a lot playing and I remember playing with the guys on my brother’s high-school team and that was a lot of fun,” said Todd, who will also play some on the Tour this season when he’s not on the PGA Tour.

What makes Prestonwood’s junior golf program such a hit? Todd says it has a lot to do with the membership.

“With three courses the juniors have the same privileges as the members as long as you make a proper tee time,” Todd said. “I think that’s a little different than a lot of clubs who just have special days for juniors to play. We could play every day no matter what and we did that.”

Because of Prestonwood’s location Todd said parents don’t have any qualms about leaving their children to play golf all day.

“They could drop us off and know we were OK and the assistant pros and other members would kind of look out for us,” said Todd, whose family moved to Prestonwood when he was 11.

Kevin Kohles, who is Ben’s father, said Prestonwood pro Tony Mabini was a big influence on his son.

“When we moved there when Ben was 10 it was Tony who was running the junior program then and he did a great job with the kids,” Kevin Kohles said.

Another facet to the junior program involves the Champions Tour tournament that is played at Prestonwood. The SAS Championship gives juniors a chance to see the pros up close.

“Our kids get exposure because the club gets a certain amount of inside-the-ropes access to the pros and we typically reserve those for our juniors,” Burgwyn said. “And they get to walk and learn from players such as John Cook and Ben Crenshaw. That’s a pretty good benefit right there.”

Kohles says that if not for the camaraderie that he found in the junior program at Prestonwood he’s not sure if he would have continued to improve.

“There were about eight to 10 of us that always hung out and we were all about the same age and those were good times,” Kohles said. “It was just an awesome thing to be able to learn and play golf. It absolutely helped my development as a player.”

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