UNLV golf program keeps Shriners event humming

The UNLV golf program has been known to receive national recognition annually.

As of Wednesday, the men’s team is ranked 24th in the country and the women’s program 13th.

So it should come as no surprise that the university’s golf management program is one of 18 accredited by the Professional Golfers’ Association of America. At UNLV, students learn how to succeed in the golf industry through classroom instruction, constructive internship experience, community service and other career development opportunities.

The program, part of UNLV’s Harrah College of Hotel Administration, has been a vital part of the operations at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin this week, assisting with the Clark County School District Day on Monday while also manning the driving range operation and golf shop facility daily leading up to today’s first round.

“We couldn’t do this without them,” said Adam Sperling, tournament director for the Shriners Open. “Everybody thinks of golf with what they see on TV, and the reality is that there’s an entire industry that supports what you see on TV.”

Sperling praised the UNLV staff for its efficiency toward the areas it has overseen while also crediting UNLV’s PGA director, Chris Cain, for the direction he’s taken with the flourishing program.

“(Chris) does an amazing job because he’s not only training these men and women how to be professionals in the industry, but he’s really turning these young men and young women into professionals in every sense of the word,” Sperling said. “Whatever element it is, one, it’s essential to our success of the event; but two, it’s hands-on training at the highest level for what they’ll be either doing or probably managing. There’s no better way to learn. It’s a coup for both of us to have that relationship.”

Enrollment into the program is limited, as applicants must apply to UNLV with the program as their major; they must have submitted a golf handicap of 12 or less verified by the United States Golf Association, a PGA professional or a high school golf coach; or they must have passed the PGA Playing Ability Test.

“It’s good for our students to get involved in the community,” said Kendall Murphy, one of the staff members in the program. “We give about 1,000 hours per semester. TPC Summerlin gives back a lot to our program, so it’s pretty important that our students are out here helping out the best they can, along with (the) other organizations that are involved.”

Fellow staff member Ashley Keller said the Shriners Open is arguably the program’s largest event of the school year, as it not only helps the students see the inside operations of a PGA event but will also spread awareness to UNLV’s golf management program.

“We help out with a couple in the spring, but this is definitely the largest event we assist with,” Keller said. “I love it.”

■ SIBLING SUPPORT — When Boston Red Sox outfielder Bryce Brentz got off the airplane Wednesday morning and opened the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he couldn’t wait to post a picture on Instagram of a feature story on his twin brother, Jared, who competed in Wednesday’s pro-am event.

Seeing his brother on the front page of the Shriners Open section made him even more excited to get to TPC Summerlin so he could watch him play live.

“How the roles have switched, and to get to come out and support him is actually exciting,” said Brentz, who made his major league debut last month. “I’ve never gotten to watch him play … now, to see him out here with the pros, knowing he can hang with them, for me it’s about being a fan and being a proud brother because it’s just real special, everything he’s gone through.”

Jared Brentz, who had both feet and ankles removed at age 12, played as part of a team that included two other former patients of Shriners Hospitals — RJ Wren and Kim Moore — along with professional golfer Jonathan Byrd. The foursome finished at 10-under-par 61. This weekend, Jared Brentz will compete in the ParaLong Drive Worlds in Mesquite, where he’ll face international competition.

■ MORE THAN GOLF — While the Shriners Open has helped raise money and awareness for Shriners Hospitals in North America, it annually gives new participants an idea of how significant the event is and how the facilities change lives every day. With 22 locations in the United States, Canada and Mexico providing advanced care for children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate, Shriners Hospitals for Children relies on the generosity of donors.

“Anytime it’s the Shriners, anytime you can get involved with kids and know they’re the beneficiaries of this golf tournament and some of the charity proceeds, it always means something special,” said pro golfer Brice Garnett, who will be competing in the Shriners Open for the second time. “I know the guys don’t mind taking time out of their schedules to meet with patients or the kids or whatever it may be. Every week is special, but when you have a really good cause behind it, it’s even more special.”

Justin Thomas, who is playing in his first Shriners Open this week, said the positive feedback about the event drew him to Las Vegas, knowing it’s much more than a golf event.

“I’ve obviously heard a lot about it, and there’s a reason why a lot of big names come back every year,” Thomas said. “It’s obviously an extremely well-run event, it’s a great course, and for everything that Shriners do for children, it’s just awesome.”

■ QUICKEN ACE — The Quicken Loan Hole-In-One Sweepstakes will award a year’s worth of mortgage payments to one person for each ace made during the Shriners Open this week and through the end of the PGA Tour this year.

Since launching in July, the program has awarded eight winners a total of $100,000 in mortgage payments. It also features a monthly drawing for fans, who can enter for a chance to win a month’s mortgage payment by visiting PGATOUR.com/QuickenLoans. Each person may enter once, but can increase their chances of winning by referring friends and family members. All qualified entrants are eligible to win a year’s worth of mortgage payments.

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