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Alpena’s Kennedy Ellis soaks up atmosphere, knowledge as volunteer at Augusta National Women’s Amateur tournament

Courtesy Photo Alpena High senior Kennedy Ellis is pictured with Champions Retreat Golf Superintendent Craig Walsh during her recent stint as part of the volunteer grounds crew at the Augusta National Women's Amateur in Georgia.

ALPENA — For most high schoolers, spring break is all about taking time to get away from school and getting a chance to relax.

For Kennedy Ellis, spring break turned into a very busy, but very enjoyable week.

Ellis, an Alpena High School senior, was part of the volunteer grounds crew for part of the 2021 Augusta National Women’s Amateur, which was held from March 31 to April 3.

Ellis worked for two days prior to the start of the tournament and then the first two rounds of play at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Evans, Georgia.

As a golf enthusiast and an aspiring turfgrass researcher, Ellis got the best of both worlds during her spring break.

Courtesy Photo Alpena High senior Kennedy Ellis is pictured with Alpena High teacher Ron Worth. Ellis credits Worth for helping her take up an interest in turfgrass management studies.

“To say the least, it was phenomenal, remarkable, and any other strong adjective I can use,” Ellis said. “Just the experience as a whole, the history behind the course, to volunteer there and be on the grounds was amazing.”

Though she was one of the youngest members of the grounds crew, Ellis was part of a dedicated group of 15-20 workers whose goal was to make game play as smooth as possible.

Being a part of the grounds crew required being at the course at 4 in the morning and working until 6:30 or 7 p.m. each night, raking bunkers, clearing pine cones and other debris off the course and doing other tasks to keep the course clean.

The experience gave Ellis — who signed a Letter of Intent with Olivet College’s women’s golf program in February — a chance to soak up some history as she watched the final round of the tournament on April 3 at Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the annual Masters Tournament every April.

But it also gave her invaluable hands-on experience as she pursues studies in turfgrass management. She worked directly with Champions Retreat Golf Superintendent Craig Walsh, who was more than happy to show Ellis the ropes.

“The superintendent was just remarkable,” Ellis said. “He took me under his wing and the volunteers did as well.”

Ellis got the opportunity through her membership in the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association, a professional organization dedicated to turfgrass management. During her week in Georgia, Ellis also was interviewed for Pullin’ Weeds, the Carolinas GCSA’s official podcast.

Ellis, who joined the Alpena High girls golf team as a freshman, instantly fell in love with the game, but over time, she also grew interested in the science behind the game and turfgrass management.

Ellis credits Alpena High teacher Ron Worth for seeing her potential in that field of study long before she ever imagined it. In the last two years, Ellis has completed 19 different certifications, completed 19 Penn State University extension courses in plant and soil sciences, completed 83 hours of turfgrass

industry training and was also dual-enrolled at Michigan State University this semester, taking a class in turfgrass soil fertility.

“He played a huge role. He saw something in me before I saw it,” Ellis said. “He’s been right there to guide me in situations where I might need it. I wouldn’t be where I am without his help.”

Ellis will get another chance to work a tournament soon as she’ll be part of the grounds crew working the U.S. Women’s Open in San Francisco in June. She also hopes to spend time playing as much golf as possible before she heads to Olivet in the fall.

Despite the busy schedule, Ellis said her experience in Georgia was very rewarding and hopes that future experiences, like the one in San Francisco, are as well.

“I’m really glad I had that (experience) and going forward, I hope to have many more like that,” Ellis said.

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