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River Oaks program attracts 125 students
Sixteen years ago, Rob Phipps came up with the idea to establish a junior golf program at River Oaks.

He worked with Greg Silva to make it a reality in 1993.

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

Silva, a veteran teaching pro, continues to promote the sport for his friend and former colleague.

"Both Rob and I saw the need for a junior golf program because there weren't many around," he said. "We set some pretty high goals and achieved them. We're pioneers."

Approximately 125 kids, aged 7-17, signed up for this summer's first four-week session (June 9-July 3).

"It's down from last year," Silva said. "There are a few reasons for that. The economy and we had no mailing list. We had to depend on word of mouth."

The second session runs July 14-August 7.

Cost is $30 for beginners, which pays for seven one-hour classes and free range balls Monday through Friday.

Cost is $50 for intermediates, which includes seven lessons, range balls and free play on the front nine.

Cost is $75 for advanced (seven lessons, range balls and access to all 18 holes).

Silva provided instruction to more than a dozen beginners from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the driving range on Thursday, June 18.

"You work on the basic fundamentals day after day," Greg said. "But you got to make it fun."

"He's not to easy on them, which is good," Ceres resident Cheryle Monahan said.

Monahan's 10-year-old son, Evrytte, couldn't hide his excitement after driving the ball 50 yards.

"This is fun," he said with a big grin on his face.

Added Cheryle: "He's been interested in golf so we signed him up. This is his second time coming here. He's learning quickly. He's getting good."

The River Oaks Jr. Golf year-end tournament will be held on Aug. 7.

"Over 8,000 kids have benefited from the program," Silva said. "We're still going strong."

More than 25 participants have gone on to compete at the collegiate level, including former Ceres High and Cal State Stanislaus standout Ryan Thornberry.

Prior to joining the Canadian Pro Tour, Ryan captured the 2006 California Amateur Championship.

He was a four-time, All-American at Stanislaus, where he collected seven titles.

Thornberry claimed the 2001 Northern California Junior Amateur Championship. He was also named the Northern California Junior Golf Association Player of the Year.

Ryan was voted the Central California Conference's Most Valuable Player three years in a row (2000-2002) while starring on the Ceres High boys golf team. He led the Bulldogs to a first-place finish and perfect 18-0 record in league during his senior year.

"He achieved just about every goal he set," Silva said. "Pretty amazing."