It is the mission of the Southern Nevada Junior Golf Association to best serve our members and develop their golf games. In 2023, the board of directors led by president John Hawk and staff, led by executive director Renee Rocco and new tournament director Joe Sawaia, have implemented changes and enhancements. Here’s the story.
Sawaia, coach of the 2022 Coronado High School women’s state champions and former boys head coach, has retired from the school district and is committed to helping the SNJGA reach the next level. His two sons, Brett and Ben, now golfers at UNLV, grew up playing in the SNJGA and he has an understanding about what parents are going through and how to enhance where the SNJGA is going. In all, he won 12 total state high school titles as Coronado’s coach.
“Renee is awesome and she has done the lion’s share of the schedule and it is a perfect time for me to jump in and help,” Sawaia says. “Having coached for a long time and being familiar with what the SNJGA does well and also what can be improved upon, is why I wanted to step in and assist.”
Sawaia says his goals are to create a better feel for the tournaments and that means signage, pin sheets, live scoring and other ideas. He believes those little details are important to attracting the top kids to play and giving all kids and parents the best experience possible. Also, he will work to attract sponsors to help subsidize the tournaments because he understands the expense of playing junior golf for parents.
He also will help ensure the tournaments are to the quality where they receive American Junior Golf Association ranking stars and wants the better players to want to play in the SNJGA. Two recent tournaments had AJGA stars available, which helps local kids qualify for the regional and national AJGA events.
Sawaia also speaks from experience and wants to impart his knowledge to the kids and parents.
“I think the message for parents is that there is kind of a misnomer out there about rankings,” Sawaia says. “I think kids and families get caught up in rankings too early and at too young of an age. I fell prey to it as a dad when I didn’t know what was going on. When it comes to colleges, a lot of the coaches look to see if kids are winning golf tournaments. A young player can travel and finish 40th in a tournament, but it might be better to stay home and finish top five or maybe win a local tournament. I want to educate parents about how our local tour can help in the whole process of college golf. I don’t want our local kids to shy away from the SNJGA. We are all committed and we are working as a team together with John, the president, and our staff that will execute the tournaments and help improve them.”
2023 SNJGA Tournament Changes
The changes were determined following discussions with tournament staff, players, course operators, and other stake holders plus after researching surrounding organizations.
Starting January 1, 2023:
BOYS AND GIRLS AGES 9-10: One day 9 hole events
BOYS AND GIRLS AGES 11-12: One day 18 hole events
BOYS AND GIRLS AGES 13-14: Two day 36 hole events
BOYS AND GIRLS AGES 15-18: Two day 36 hole events
Most of our events will be comprised of all age divisions. In these cases, the 9-10 and 11-12 year old’s will play on Day 1 only. At certain times of the year, we have our one day series specifically for our 9-10 and 11-12 age divisions.
“This year we experimented with some one-day only events for our younger kids and we noticed we attracted a much larger field for those events than we did for our 2-day events,” Rocco says. “Our focus is on player development and we’ve noticed that between the ages of 9-10, most players are not ready to play a 36-hole competition. This is also something we noticed when we looked at how surrounding junior golf organizations were creating their schedules. We want to provide options and opportunities for our players to continue to improve their game and not get discouraged by a tournament that they may not be ready to play. Creating this model where they slowly increase their amount of play will lead to developing players who have honed their tournament skills, such as course management.”
As a note, if there are players ages 9-10 who feel they are ready to play 18 holes, they may reach out to our tournament director and provide a playing resume to be allowed to play up in age. Players ages 11-12 who feel they are ready for 36-hole competitions may also reach out to our tournament director to move up to our 13-14 year old division.