Deb Bennett is doing something the veteran coach and athletic director has done nearly two dozen times in her career — preparing her team for a state tournament.

But helping the Skyline golf team gear up for what is a historic event today is different in nearly every way from the strategy she employed when guiding the Eagles' basketball team to a 5A title two months ago.

"It's exciting," she said, admitting there isn't much scouting of opponents or drawing up game plans in overseeing golf. "We've had to kind of work through some of the details because no one expected so many girls to be interested ... It's kind of like they really did want to play, but maybe they were intimidated by competing with the boys. This is really going to take off and grow."

From players to coaches and even the staff of the Utah High School Activities Association, giving high school girls their own golf league has been a moving, exciting, frustrating and surprising experience.

"I have to admit there is a certain amount of euphoria with this that I haven't felt with the other firsts," said Dave Wilkey, whose helped guide prep sports through additions of other sports like softball. "We've had our critics, people who said wait a couple of years until you really get the numbers, but we made the choice to jump in right now, and it's been absolutely overwhelming, not just the numbers, but the enthusiasm and excitement level. It's been a special ride this time."

Some of the kinks have come from the numbers of girls who actually turned out, which was about 10 times what anyone expected.

"There are so many girls, they could have split it into 4A and 5A, but they didn't know that last fall," Bennett said.

The fact that there will be only one individual and one team champion out of all of the 4A and 5A golfers, which number around 140 who qualified for state, has been disappointing to some.

"I wouldn't be surprised if someone showed up with another trophy tomorrow," said Bingham coach Liz Conry, who played on a high school golf team herself but with boys. "The players and coaches voiced their opinions on that, but (the UHSAA) decided not to change it."

Part of the problem, officials said, was that there was nowhere to allow the other classification to compete separately for a title. Conry said her players are as excited as she is to compete for what will be the first golf championship.

Jackson said the disappointment is small compared to being part of the first tournament.

"It's disappointing how they're doing it because the field is going to be so huge," she said. "But it's been really fun. ... How often can you say you were part of the first tournament now days. It's pretty awesome to be a part of it."

Jackson, who will play basketball for BYU next year and helped guide the Eagles to their second 5A title in three years, is among the state's top golfers and will compete in a foursome with Dixie's Kelsey Vines, Annika Afoa, Murray, and Kiki Collinsworth, Brighton, all of whom are extremely talented golfers. The 4A and 5A golfers tee-off today at 9 a.m. at Davis Park, while the 1A/2A/3A golfers, about 100 of those, will compete on Wednesday at Rosepark Golf Course.

Glitches aside, Wilkey is convinced the UHSAA did the right thing when they opted to separate girls golf from boys last summer despite knowing there would be issues to iron out along the way.

"The numbers have just been astonishing," he said. "They are just having the time of their lives learning the game. This is having an impact on the sport in this state — on competition, on facilities. ... It's growing the game in a whole different way."


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com