The West Virginia High School Girls Invitational Golf Tournament started in 2018 with hopes that it would become an annual event.
To the delight of the tournament sponsor, the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission, those hopes have become a reality.
“We have been very pleased with the acceptance of the tournament and the growth of the field. We think we are accomplishing what we hoped, which is encourage more girls to play golf in general,” WVSSAC Assistant Executive Director Wayne Ryan said. “It is just a special day when the girls get to compete with other girls, and they are the feature event. They get to walk the fairways with other girls, have conversations and not feel like an outlier at a boy’s tournament.”
The only drawback for the event has been COVID-related issues which have hindered the number of entrants the last two years.
“We had about 84 entrees last year, but the map knocked out Kanawha County and we lost about 12 girls. This weekend has been fluid as far as entrees go,” Ryan said. “We are losing kids and picking up kids throughout the weekend. If we didn’t have COVID issues, we would be in the 80’s again, but we have to be happy with that. We are looking forward to an exciting day and it looks like the weather will be good.”
Tuesday afternoon, approximately 76 young ladies will grace the grounds at Mingo Bottom Country Club for the fourth year in a row.
“It is really wonderful that they are having something for the girls each year and it is really growing. The tournament is getting a lot more interest,” Woodrow Wilson golf coach Butch Freeman said. “Girls golf is really progressing. We didn’t have many girls playing for a long time and now we are getting some interest in it. Parents are really getting interested also.”
Westside golf coach Jeremy Warrix, who has had girls compete consistently in the event, echoed Freeman’s words. Warrix also has a player that could compete for top honors this year in Kerri-Anne Cook.
“I have been up there all four years and I think it is a great tournament. It is great to see so many girls involved each year. Last year Amelia (Muscari) was 13th and Kerri-Anne (Cook) was runner-up. She is more than capable of going up there and coming out with a victory,” Warrix said. “Hitting the fairways is really important and she will need to make some putts, but I think she can definitely win it.
Cook is in the midst of her sophomore season at Westside and has proven that she can hold her own on the links.
Last year was Cook’s first time playing the Girls Invitational and she fired a 76, just one shot off the winning score.
“The tournament is a lot of fun. I really like getting to see the girls that I play golf with through the summer,” Cook said. “Just having a tournament with all girls, it’s really nice to have that. It is definitely really tough competition and there a lot of girls that will compete for the win.”
Cook also explained why she thinks she played so well last year at Mingo Bottom Golf Club.
“I like the course. It kinda reminds me of my home course (Clear Fork Valley in Oceana), so I feel comfortable on it,” Cook said. “I just have to play my game.”
Former Woodrow Wilson standout, Mary Denny performed well in past events, finishing runner-up in 2019. Now there is another Denny making the trip north, her younger sister Alley Denny.
Alley finished inside the top 30 last year as a freshman.
“I loved playing last year. The people were amazing, and the course is gorgeous. It was really challenging, but I loved it. I think I can definitely play much better this year knowing the course,” Denny said.
“I think playing there last year will help Alley a lot,” Freeman said. “She is young and still gets a little nervous, so being there before I think will really help her. Alley really has some talent, and I can see her improving really fast.”
A young lady making her first appearance at the tournament will be Bethany Rosiek from Oak Hill.
“I am really excited about getting the opportunity to compete with other girls,” Rosiek said. “I just want to go up there, have fun and represent Oak Hill.”
Rosiek is one of several players pulling double duty this fall. In addition to playing golf, the Oak Hill junior has been busy as a key member of the Red Devils’ girls soccer team.
Playing soccer since her freshman season, this is the first year Rosiek has played both sports simultaneously.
“It was just really hard to work it out with soccer previously, but this year we have made it work. So far it has really gone smooth,” Rosiek said. “My soccer coach, (Gerald) Wilburn has really been understanding with the situation as has my golf coach, Matt Sydnor. There haven’t been very many conflicts which is very nice.”
Playing golf with her dad from a young age, Rosiek became more serious about the game just before she entered high school. After her short period in competitive golf, Rosiek is already seeing the rewards of playing for Oak Hill.
“I definitely think playing competitively has improved my play, especially with my short game, my drives and my putting,” Rosiek said. “I have played five matches this year and it has been a fun year so far. I like playing with people from other schools and getting to know them.”
Anastin Hornsby and Rylee Johnson from Nicholas County are also scheduled to compete on Tuesday.
Over the first three years of the tournament, the magic number to win the event has been 75, with each winner shooting that score.
Olivia Hart from Hurricane won by two strokes in 2018. Taylor Sargent took home the title in 2019 and Molly McLean won last year’s event, both earned one-shot victories.
Adding to the excitement and drama of the Girls Invitational is the fact that each year the tournament has been decided on the 18th and final hole.
Cook, Sargent and McLean will form the marque threesome. They will tee off together on hole No. 1 at noon.
Denny will also start on No. 1, while Rosiek will start from hole No. 11. Both will tee off at 12:45 p.m. Hornsby and Johnson will both start on hole No. 11 and tee off at 1:30 p.m. and 1:39 p.m., respectively.
The top eight finishers will be crowned all-tournament.