When Jason Montoya was young, other professional golfers were better known but it was Notah Begay III who provided him with the most inspiration.
“Growing up, we had Tiger (Woods) but Notah for me was the standout and the role model,” he says. “As a Native American, he was the one who motivated me to take my game to the next level and now, as an adult, he’s been my motivation to teach kids something that gets them outside besides baseball and basketball.”
Montoya, who grew up on Santa Ana Pueblo in New Mexico, became a golf pro. The 30-year-old, the first Pueblo Native American to get his PGA membership, runs The First Tee Program, teaching golf to children at the Talking Stick Golf Club near Scottsdale, Arizona.
The Talking Stick facility, which features 36 holes, is owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The youth program Montoya runs at is part of The First Tee of Phoenix program, which also operates at 13 other locations in the state, and includes activities that promote healthy choices, build character and promote life-enhancing qualities.
Montoya started golfing at 8. He was introduced to the sport when golf was added to the curriculum of a junior recreation program he was enrolled in. By the time he was in the sixth grade, he had started to get rather serious about the game. And he knew then he was interested in a career in the golf industry.
After high school, he attended the Professional Golf Management Program at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where he learned about the business side of the sport, including how to run a golf facility and got schooled in topics such as merchandising, guest services and course maintenance. He graduated from the program and became a PGA member in March of 2010.
Before Talking Stick, Montoya worked at New York’s Turning Stone Golf Resort and at three New Mexico facilities; Santa Ana Golf Club, Twin Warriors Golf Club and The Club at Las Campanas. He’s also instructed for The Notah Begay III Foundation, Santa Ana Golf Academy and The First Tee of Central New Mexico.
With his current position at Talking Stick, Montoya is introducing the sport to some children even younger than he was when he first learned about golf. A Tiny Tee program he offers is for those 4-6. “They’re awesome,” he says of his most youthful swingers. Montoya also offers an entry-level program for those aged 7-17, and instructs teens (13-16) who are more advanced than those just being introduced to the sport’s nuances.
Montoya has a simple method for his teachings. “Especially with kids [it ’s about] having fun with it. We play games still using golf techniques.”
Montoya tries to keep things as simple as possible. He’ll pass on the basics of the sport such as how to grip clubs and how to set-up and aim one’s body for shots.
“I try not to overload them with information early on. As we go on, I want them to take it more seriously.”
Montoya will soon also be helping out many other aspiring players. That’s because he has been chosen as one of the Fab 5, the Native American pro golfers who will be involved in the N7 Golf Initiative being launched by Nike in July.
It will encourage Native children to start playing the sport. Nike’s upcoming venture will also give Native-owned golf courses exclusive rights to sell N7 golf merchandise. Proceeds from these sales will go back to Native American communities to promote youth access to sport.
“To me, it’s a brand I can relate to and believe in,” Montoya says. “It’s trying to get the brand out there, grow the game of golf not just for native youth but everybody else who wants to know more about golf .”