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New executive director of WVGA hosts first WV Open

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One of the West Virginia Golf Association’s top events, the West Virginia Open, is about to be played with a new leader who’s a veteran of the organization.

Brad Ullman became executive director at the WVGA in March. He served as the WVGA director of operations for the past seven years.

The experience that Ullman gained from his mentor, Ken Tackett, should serve him well in the new post.

Tackett moved on to the PGA Tour this year. He spent the last seven of his 11 years with the WVGA as its executive director. He is currently in his first year with the PGA, as a rules official. He is working under another West Virginian — Beckley native Slugger White, the PGA Tour vice president for rules and competition.

“I learned a lot from Ken in those seven years,” said Ullman. “I got to really know the golf industry and golf from the administration side of things. Championship administration is fun; it’s what I love to do.

“The biggest events of the year — like the W.Va. Amateur and the W.Va. Open, those are ones we all look forward to. Ken is a good friend. Now that he is on the PGA Tour, it’s just that much more interesting and fun to share ideas, from things that are happening at the highest level, so that we can enhance our (West Virginia) tournament championships.”

Classic times

Having just completed its fifth tournament, The Greenbrier Classic has quickly become one of the most popular stops on the PGA Tour FedExCup schedule for the players.

Best of all, at least in Ullman’s eyes, is the boost The Greenbrier Classic has given the state’s golf profile, and the WVGA itself.

“In our state, any time our people are talking about the game of golf it’s a good thing for us,” said Ullman. “Here in West Virginia, golf is growing even when it’s not necessarily prospering in other places across the nation.”

The Greenbrier Classic has drawn internationally known golfers such as Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Davis Love III and Webb Simpson. It is televised across the globe on CBS and The Golf Channel.

“The Greenbrier Classic and the impact that it has on golf in West Virginia is beyond anyone’s belief,” Ullman said. “It’s because of the amount of attention that it brings to the game and the facilities that West Virginia has, like The Greenbrier, The Resort at Glade Springs and the state parks and other places in state that have so much beauty to them.

“Golf is well in West Virginia, and The Greenbrier Classic is a huge part of that.”

Growing golf

The WVGA does not intend to merely ride the coattails of The Greenbrier Classic, however. A number of strategies are in place to grow the game in the Mountain State, beginning with youngsters.

“We oversee the operations of The First Tee of West Virginia, our junior golf initiative,” Ullman said. “We’re getting into all of the elementary schools in West Virginia, about 469 schools. That is a part of a seven-year plan that we’re working on.

“The First Tee of West Virginia is in six different cities in the state, and we’re impacting kids in positive ways through character development as well as introducing them to the game of golf.

“We have a Callaway Junior Tour that gives kids an affordable opportunity to play golf for those that are interested in playing competitively.”

Ullman said a group specifically targeting women’s golf started three months ago.

“They’re doing research and studies about how we can better open the game to them,” he said. “We want to make the game available to more people, to enhance and grow golf.”

Open and amateur

The 81st West Virginia Open Championship will be played July 21-25 on the Cobb Course at The Resort at Glade Springs.

Qualifiers were held at Edgewood Country Club in Charleston, Moundsville Country Club, Riverside Golf Club in Mason, Lakeview Resort in Morgantown and Glade Springs.

In a coup for the WVGA and its amateurs, the West Virginia Amateur tournament has a significant benefit for its champion each year, in addition to the prestige of winning it.

The Greenbrier owner and CEO Jim Justice extends a highly coveted exemption slot to play in The Greenbrier Classic to the state amateur winner each year.

“That’s huge,” Ullman said. “Mr. Justice’s contributions to amateur golf are something that you don’t see anywhere else in the world, as far as giving those exemptions.

“We’re just extremely fortunate that he has that love for the amateur golfers in our state. Brian Anania, our (2014) amateur champion that just played in The Greenbrier Classic, will be playing in the West Virginia Open this year too. He’s looking to get his first Open win.”

Other top players expected at the Open include Jonathan Bartlett, Barry Evans, Christian Brand and David Bradshaw.

“There’s a lot of solid talent coming to this year’s Open,” Ullman said.

Golf on the cobb

The Cobb course at The Resort at Glade Springs has seen its share of top golf. It’s recognized as one of the premier courses in the region.

It has hosted NCAA championship golf and has served as host of qualifying rounds for The Greenbrier Classic.

“It can hold its own, no question, for any level of player,” said Ullman. “It has different characteristics of huge greens, numerous tee areas. You can play the course at 6,200 yards or at pushing 7,000 yards.

“It’s been the course for The Greenbrier Classic Monday qualifier. That’s where the next stage of the greatest players in the world, have to come through here to get to The Greenbrier.”

Ullman expressed high expectations for this year’s Open event.

“The Cobb course is going to play tough,” he said. “It’s a very hard golf course, but it needs to be, to find out who the best golfers are, both professional and amateur.

“The greens are massive, which gives us a unique opportunity to be creative with the course setup — where the hole locations are going to go. We can set it up to where many of the golfers have never seen it before.

“It’s a fair test, but truly a difficult test.”

For everyone

You don’t have to have aspirations to play the W.Va. Open or any other tournament on the schedule to take advantage of the state’s golf opportunities and to enjoy the benefits of being a member of the state association, according to Ullman.

“We are an association of member clubs,” Ullman explained. “We have 85 member clubs in West Virginia, and we are the arm of the USGA for the state.”

Ullman said a person can join the WVGA even if he or she is not a competitive golfer.

“If you just like to play golf, you can get a VIP card for $39 that gives you access to public, private and even resort courses, including The Old White TPC and the Cobb course and other places that you may not normally have access to,” he said. “It also opens you up to more information about golf in West Virginia. That helps us with the expansion of what is going on with our member clubs.

“No matter what age or skill level, there’s something for you in the West Virginia Golf Association.”

More details about the West Virginia Golf Association can be found at wvga.org.

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