MOORPARK, Calif. – Mark Peifer, the director of golf at Tierra Rejada Golf Club in Moorpark, Calif., is fond of saying, “At the end of the day, nobody cares what you shoot except you.” It’s an adage that would seem unlikely to carry over to an elite junior golf program whose participants are aiming to land college scholarships, but it does.
The Tierra Rejada Advanced Player Program seeks to provide junior players with “an opportunity to realize their full potential.” The program is by invitation only from a three-member committee that includes Peifer, and though it has produced several Division I college golfers and a USGA champion, it focuses on more than game improvement.
“It’s not all about making birdies,” said Peifer, 40, who has been at Tierra Rejada for 10 years. “I want you to be the best person you can be.”
Indeed, the program’s four core values, which are posted on a bulletin board alongside the current roster, are integrity, accountability, passion and respect. Those attributes accompany a list of expectations that are designed to develop responsible members of the community.
“We seek out kids who want to pursue golf in college who economically could not be members of a private club,” said Peifer. “We give them access to range balls, access to the golf course and whatever help I can offer as a teaching professional.”
In return, participants are asked to be representatives and caretakers of the course. On occasion, a player might not fully heed those responsibilities, and Peifer will have a frank discussion with his charge.
“They’re kids, so when they go to a tournament, they might get out of sorts, maybe throw a club,” said Peifer. “I’ll hear about it, because that’s how golf is, and I will sit them down and remind them that they’re representing their parents, Tierra Rejada and me, and if their behavior is less than professional, it reflects on the rest of us as well. Suddenly, the light bulb goes on in their head and they realize their actions have bigger effects. Invariably, they all grow as individuals.”
“You don’t try out for the program; it’s kind of like college where they scout out your potential,” said Lauren Diaz-Yi, who started playing at Tierra Rejada when she was 9 years old. Diaz-Yi won the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship and is a sophomore at the University of Virginia. “Mark tried to accommodate us as much as he could, and when we would go out to play, he would ask us to take a bucket of sand and fill divots. In the grand scheme of things, it might not be a big deal, but it reinforces all the great qualities of golf.”
A current member of the program, Divya Manthena, a senior at La Reina High School in nearby Camarillo, was the recipient of the 2013 USGA-AJGA Presidents’ Leadership Award for her efforts in organizing golf tournaments that have raised nearly $40,000 for charitable causes.
“Mark is a really big believer in being a good person, being respectful, being the best golfer you can be inside and out,” said Diaz-Yi. “Everything he does within the program is geared toward that goal. He’s trying to nurture a new generation of golfers.”
Other current college players who participated in the Tierra Rejada program include La Reina High graduate JoJo Sottile of Thousand Oaks, who is a sophomore at Northern Arizona, and Thomas Lim, a graduate of Moorpark High who is a sophomore at the University of Oregon. Lim and Diaz-Yi both won recent college tournaments and earned player of the week honors from Golfweek. Honing their skills at Tierra Rejada certainly helped.
“We make our juniors play from the most forward set of tees until they can break par – they can’t move back until they do,” said Peifer. “It’s much less about ability than it is about the mental game. It teaches you to avoid playing the scorecard, rather than the golf course.”
“Being able to play whenever I wanted to helped me improve my game significantly,” said Diaz-Yi. “Just practicing isn’t going to do it – you need to get on the course and practice course management. I’ve matured a lot because of it.”
Up to 12 students take part in the program, which feted Diaz-Yi’s USGA victory last year with a banner in front of the clubhouse.
“We’ve given these kids the opportunity and look what happens – great things,” said Peifer. “To have Lauren win a USGA championship, that was unreal. I hope her passion to play the game continues. She’s a great asset to the game of golf.”
“The people who were in the program my year (class of 2013), I’ve played with them since I was little,” said Diaz-Yi. “We grew up together. Now we’re playing Division I golf at great schools. You can’t really ask for anything more.”
Actually, at Tierra Rejada, they do ask for more, and its players are the better for it.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.