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River Oaks junior golf draws 200 youth
A total of 200 boys and girls, aged 7-17, signed up for the River Oaks Junior Golf Program this summer.

Family members and friends watched as participants competed in the end-of-year tournament, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., on Aug. 3.

Top finishers received gold, silver and bronze medals.

"We're getting a response from the community," General Manager Michael Phipps said. "It (enrollment) went up more this year. It's because we're well-known and it's affordable. For the whole session, it's cheaper than taking kids to the movies. If we had more volunteer instructors, we could have had more classes."

Ceres' James Cervantez (13), and Hughson's Caleb Thornhill (10) and Nicole Van Houten (10) were among the participants in the 10-to-13-year-old flight.

Cervantez quit football to focus on golf.

"My coach (Greg Silva) encouraged me to just keep playing year-round," James said. "I enjoy driving it far and beating my dad."

"This is all he wants to do," Cecil Cervantez said. "He's improved a lot."

James finished in first place, followed by Brady Smith and Chase Rodriguez.

Mother Kellie served as son Caleb's caddie.

Thornhill started taking lessons at River Oaks in 2010.

"We thought we'd give it a try a couple of years ago and he loved it," she said. "Ever year, he asks when it's going to start again. It's so fun."

Robert Villarreal carried granddaughter Nicole's golf bag.

Ceres' Matteo Bonales (9) and Josh Taylor (8) competed in the 7-to-9-year-old division.

"My grandpa talked me into it," said Matteo, a first-year participant, who earned low-medalist honors in his age group. Lance Walton and Carson Carranza rounded out the top three.

Anthony Bonales, Mateo's older brother and a junior at Central Valley High School, is one of the top golfers in the Sac-Joaquin Section.

River Oaks' year-end tournament featured four age groups: 14-17, 10-13, 7-9 and 5&older.

Ben Johannes, Austin Erickson and Darryl Hadlich took first, second and third, respectively, in the 14-17 division.

Michaela Dobbs (14-17), Ariana Medina (10-13) and Annika Lightfoot (5-9) posted the best scores in the girls division.

With assistance from veteran teaching pro Greg Silva, Rob Phipps helped establish the junior golf program at River Oaks in 1993.

Rob, the club's longtime general manager and a member of the Ceres City Council, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 44 in December of 2007.

"My brother started it and we're just trying to continue to build it," Michael said. "We draw kids from the whole Stanislaus County. It's the only affordable golf they can do. We're not the biggest and the best but we're the friendliest."

River Oaks' second summer session ran, July 10 through Aug. 1.

Cost was $30 for beginners, $50 for intermediates and $75 for advanced.