VERONA, N.Y. – When Notah Begay III started playing golf, many people doubted him. Now, as the only full-blooded American Indian on the PGA Tour, he takes time out of his golf game to deliver a message to young golfers: Never give up.
“Don’t ever think you can’t do anything. Aim big and work hard for what you want,” Begay told a group of children during the B.C. Open in Verona.
Begay, 33, took time out of his practice from the PGA Tour July 18 to teach summer campers from a program in Liverpool and children from the Fort Drum military base the basics of golf. The children “oohed” and “ahhed” as Begay hit golf balls high in the sky to demonstrate which clubs to use for the most accurate shots.
“This is a great opportunity for me to come out and talk with you kids today,” Begay said. “Golfing has given me the opportunity to travel all over the world. I’ve played in Japan, Canada and just about every state in the United States.”
Begay selected a few members of the group to come up and hit the ball. John Medica, 11, from Liverpool Elementary, hit the ball over the sand trap and into the trees.
“I think it was a great learning experience for me to meet Notah,” Medica said. “This was the first time I’ve ever met a pro golfer and I really like him.”
Begay said he hopes young people get excited for the sport and told the crowd to always work for what they want.
“It’s a gift just to see the excitement in their eyes when they hit a good shot,” he said.
A native of Albuquerque, N.M., Begay’s father is full-blooded Navajo and his mother is New Mexican Pueblo, half-San Filipe and half-Isleta. Begay was in Verona, near the Oneida Indian Nation of New York homelands, for the B.C. Open. The tournament moved from En-Joie Golf Club in Endicott to Atunyote Golf Club at Turning Stone Resort and Casino, an enterprise of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York. Flood damage at the course forced the organizers to find a new location.
The tournament, which drew a large crowd to the area, ran through July 23. Begay, who shot a 7-under par for the tournament, said he was honored to play on the Atunyote Golf Course.
Clint Hill of the Oneida Nation Men’s Council said it would be great to see the PGA Tour return to the Atunyote Golf Club.
“I would love to see the tour come back here,” Hill said. “It would be wonderful to be a regular spot on the tour next fall.
Hill said talks are going on but no decisions have been made on whether the PGA Tour will make Verona a regular stop.
“Everyone I talked to said they had a wonderful time here,” he said. “I didn’t hear any bad comments about anything.”
Hill, who played with the pros during the Pro-Am tournament, said that it was an experience that he’ll always remember.
“It was really exciting to be on the course with the pros,” Hill said. “I loved it. The course was great. It looked really great on TV.”
The Tom Fazio-designed Atunyote Golf Course opened in July 2004. Atunyote, which in Oneida means “eagle,” was named in Golfweek’s “America’s Best 2006 – Top 10 public courses in New York,” and Travel & Leisure Golf named Atunyote in their “Ten Best New Public/Resort Courses.”
Begay said that as an American Indian golfer, getting the chance to play on a Native-owned course is a wonderful thing.
“It’s great to have course like this to play on,” he said. “It’s great for Native golf.”