By Vern Hee
Seven years ago Tonopah High School had no golf team. It took the desire of a freshman teen and his father to sell the school on the idea.
The problem was, there was no place in Tonopah to play golf. Where would the team even practice, much less play and compete? The nearest course was 70 miles away in Round Mountain.
All the negatives, though, never deterred Denver Ottesson, who just wanted to play golf.
His father, Robert, went to the school, and the Tonopah golf team was soon born. Robert is the first and only head coach the team has known.
“When my son was an eighth grader the high school did not have a team. He said he wanted to play in high school so I went to talk to the principal. We played the first year as a club and the following year we became a team.”
Donnie Nelson, assistant director of the NIAA, confirmed the team was one of a kind.
“On the top of my head, they are the only school that has a golf team, but does not have a course in its town boundaries,” said Nelson.
The only team Nelson could think of was Beatty and they stopped playing after the 2008 season.
Dale Salmen, Round Mountain boys golf coach, welcomes all new teams and said the expansion was good for the game.
“I think it is really tough to do what they did,” said Salmen. “They are coming along okay. They are a fairly competitive team.”
At first, Robert took his team as often as he could to Round Mountain.
“It was kind of a burden on the school,” said Robert. “They would provide the van and we would go once every two weeks.”
Other than going to the course, the only other alternative was practicing at the old airport.
“For the first five years, we drove out of town for six miles at the old airport. The old driving range was pitiful. We had to drag all the weeds off of it. It had not been used for years. We just used that for a while. We do not even do that any more. Last year was the first year we started our own driving range.”
The driving range practice replaced going to Round Mountain. Robert tried to give his team every experience he could without traveling to Round Mountain all the time.
“We have a putting green at my house that I constructed. If we don’t use the putting green, we set up cans on some carpet. We use what we have. It’s tough.”
Is the coach saying that the driving range is just as good as the real thing? No, but his team does come away with benefits other teams do not have.
“We set up mats on the range and one kid will hit 300-400 balls a night. Whereas other kids on other teams will play a round of golf. Our kids when they go out know what range they can hit a ball. Of course, the grass is a bit different than artificial turf, so we occasionally go down to a grass field and hit off of that too. We hit a round on the edges of those fields in case of divots. So, we put a bucket in the middle of the field and all the kids will hit at it. It is quite a deal,” said Robert.
His teams do well for not having a course. It has sent six kids to state in seven years.
“My son went to state four years in a row. A couple of other kids went a couple of times. When my son was a senior he was one of the best in the state and the Reno Gazette did an article on him. Round Mountain is our biggest rival and we beat them in every tournament. It makes them upset. We have never done better than third in a tournament,” he said.
The new driving range wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the school district, which gave them the land.
“We have made a lot of money fundraising. We spent about six to seven thousand on that driving range in the last couple of years,” said Robert.
He believes the team will do well this year. He said his team is led by a girl named Samantha Ryals. She came to the team as a sophomore.
“She is the only senior we have. She is one of the best golfers we have. Samantha beats probably three quarters of the field. It is good. She is better than most of the boys. Jordan Bridgeman, a junior, is also one of the best players we have,” he said.
In addition to his top players, Robert said he has eight freshmen. Most of the freshmen that come through Tonopah have no experience playing golf.
“We had a kid shoot 175 his first year as a freshmen. Then as a senior he shot an 85. That was a 9- stroke improvement. We have had only a little of success and the kids still come,” said Otteson.
The Tonopah team competes in the Southern Division III League, which consists of seven teams. Last year, the team finished fifth in league.
This year, the team still will be doing some fundraising.
“We are trying to raise money again. We need money for balls and clubs. Most of the kids that came out did not have clubs. The doctor in town, Dr. Vincent Scoccia, bought us all new golf bags and uniforms. Our thanks go out to him,” said Robert.