PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) - The Utah Open golf tournament tees off later this week at Riverside Country Club in Provo. But the fun actually started on Monday with the first of eight pro-ams, and the Special Olympics short game challenge, which as become a highlight of the week for everyone involved.
"It is awesome," said Utah PGA Executive Director Devin Dehlin. "Fun time. The kids have a ball. I'm sure you guys have even more fun."
The Utah Open and the Special Olympics have been partners for a quarter of a century. In fact, Special Olympics golf started right here at Riverside Country Club during the old Ben Hogan Tour. Riverside head pro Robert McArthur was there when it started.
"It seems like only yesterday," McCarther said. "It was a great time and every time we have these it brings back wonderful memories."
"We have our athletes that are here throughout the week volunteering to fill ice bags and drink bags," said Utah Special Olympics Executive Director D'Arcy Pignanelli. "Anything they can do to go out and support the players so that this is a successful Utah Open."
Several years ago, the Short Game Challenge was started. Special Olympic athletes are paired with celebrities like Ron Boone, who was this event last year. Last year was your first year playing in this and I could just see a smile on your face as it was going. You loved it.
"Well the excitement and the fun part of it is the Special Olympic players," Boone said. "They get pretty excited."
"The best part about it though is the interaction we have with them all week," Dehlin added. "They interact with players, they stand out there at the check-in area, watch them come up and give hugs to player after player that have been here year after. It's just everybody get, they look forward to it."
"It's 25 years since Special Olympics became the charity of choice for the Utah Open," said Pignanelli. "It's also that it was Utah that put it on the map as a sport for Special Olympics across the world and that's a wonderful story."