Back in 2018, the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission announced it would be sponsoring the first-ever W.Va. High School Girls Invitation Golf Championship in hopes of expanding the game for the young ladies across the Mountain State.
Starting with roughly 50 golfers that year, six years later the tournament has grown by leaps and bounds.
“There are 88 girls registered to play. We had 80 golfers last year, so we break our participation record and we are thrilled with that,” WVSSAC Assistant Executive Director Wayne Ryan said. “Overall it has been well received and now we have more and more events played throughout the golf season that are girls only. We are accomplishing getting the girls exposure and the opportunity to golf with other girls.”
The event will once again be played at Mingo Bottom Golf Club in Wirt County.
“(GM and Director of Golf) Billy Dotson has been great to work with,” Ryan said. “I can’t emphasize enough how great he has been to work with.”
Not only has the number of players increased over the years, so has the quality of golf thanks to the ladies getting more opportunities to play.
Future Marshall University golfer and current Hurricane standout Savannah Hawkins won last year’s event and went on to finish second overall in Class AAA at the state high school golf tournament in Wheeling. Hawkins will be a strong contender again this year.
“A score of 75 won this event the first three years. In 2021 it was a 73. Last year Savannah Hawkins shot 68. She was four-under par!” Ryan said. “The runner-up was Taylor Sargent, who won it the previous year and she was two-under par. Kerri-Anne (Cook) was right there at 76 (in third place). The quality of golf just keeps getting better and better for the girls.”
A senior at Westside High School, Cook is the reigning W.Va. Jr. Am champion and has finished top-five or better in her three previous tournament appearances at Mingo Bottom Golf Club.
The good news for Cook is she heads into the tournament with some solid momentum on her side.
Just over two weeks ago, Cook fired a five-under par 67 at Grandview Country Club to set the course record from the red tees. It was also the lowest round of her career.
The senior standout birdied the first six holes before a double-bogey on hole nine momentarily stopped her momentum.
“I never had six (birdies) in a row before. My best was five previously,” Cook said. “After hole nine it was kind of one of those, if I could have finished out (with a par) that would have been great. But, then I thought, I just went four-under par for nine (holes).”
Cook finished her historic round by shooting one-under par 35 on the tricky back nine at Grandview.
“I always try to keep what I am shooting out of my head. You always kind of have an idea, so I just have to stay in the moment of what I am doing,” Cook said. “The last nine holes went really smooth. I was just hitting it good off the tee, throwing them close and making putts.”
Playing in big tournaments across multiple states is nothing new for the young phenom, but Tuesday’s event has always been one of her favorites.
“This is definitely one of the more special tournaments for me,” Cook said. “Mainly because it is close for me and to have a tournament that is all girls that the WVSSAC does for us is kind of special.”
“I have played with boys my whole life,” Cook went on to say. “I grew up with brothers and all that. It is nice to go out and just have a tournament with only girls.”
Cook will also have some local knowledge on her side since she is one of a handful of golfers playing the tournament for the fourth year in a row.
“I am definitely more comfortable with the course now and I am more comfortable in my swing,” Cook said. “I know everybody better too, so I more comfortable with the environment.”
Cook is slated to tee off at 11:24 a.m. alongside Hawkins, Brielle Millhoan (Parkersburg), another four year standout, and Bridgeport freshman Audrey Kerr.
Alley Denny from Beckley will also be part of the tournament this year. Denny had a strong day last year coming in 12th overall.
The players will be split into two divisions. The championship division with be an 18-hole competition, while the Open Division will be a nine-hole event.
Other local players listed to compete are Alyssa Christian, MaeAnn Stroup (Princeton), Landri Flohr, Gracie McCalister, Alexa Quesenberry (Shady Spring), Kanyon Paynter (Westside), Katelin Fullen, Anna Frasher, Madison Noonkester (James Monroe), Maggie Asbury (Liberty) and Carson Austin (Montcalm).
“We give certificates to the girls that have played for four years. We are really pleased in the fact that it is a priority for them to get back to this event,” Ryan said. “We think that is great and we are succeeding for them. It’s a special day for them because it is all about them. It means a lot to me too because I love girls sports.”
The fill list of tee times can be found at the link below.