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Swingin; success: Stevinson Ranch, Hansen help Porterville high school golfers

STEVINSON -- It all began with a letter.

Granite Hills golf coach Davis Coldiron was setting up his school's golf tournament.

With many students from the Porterville school coming from less-than-affluent backgrounds, the event also was designed as the team's major fund-raiser.

So Coldiron solicited golf courses in the area for prize donations.

"We were hoping for maybe a couple of foursomes (free golf) or some gear," Coldiron said. "We were trying to get raffle prizes.

"What Stevinson Ranch did was above and beyond."

Stevinson Ranch founder George Kelley decided that helping Coldiron spread the game to kids who might otherwise never be exposed to it was the least he could do.

When Coldiron's letter reached Kelley's desk, the Stevinson boss was instantly moved.

Coldiron painted a picture of the somewhat bleak scenario in which his players were learning the game.

The letter explained how the team had to beg the community for donated clubs and balls.

Neither the players nor the school had the money to get the team out onto the links for regular practice, making improvement very difficult.

Accompanying the letter were pictures of the used, mismatched clubs the team was using -- many of which were over a decade old.

Kelley shared the letter with colleagues at the course, but by the time everyone got on the same page, Granite Hills' tournament had come and gone.

Yet Kelley remained determined to do something.

"I was so moved by this team of underprivileged kids going out and playing without any kind of previous training or instruction," Kelley said. "I wanted to do more than just give them a free round.

"I told the coach, 'We have lodging. Come up for a couple of days and we'll give you some free instruction.' "

Kelley didn't stop there.

The Stevinson founder went to work with friends in the business to see what he could get in the way of donations.

By the time the Granite Hills players arrived at Stevinson on Monday, 14 new sets of Titleist clubs, bags, balls and assorted other gear were waiting for them.

"We kept saying, 'It's like Christmas for them,' " Coldiron said. "We tried to prevent a mad rush.

"When we were alone later that night, they asked me, 'Coach, do we get to keep these?'

Junior Sam Salinas said Kelley's generosity was overwhelming.

"We're all just blown away by everything," Salinas said. "It's almost too much.

"I think everybody's just grateful for this chance and wants to make the most of it."

The new gear wasn't all, either.

The Granite Hills squad received lessons from Stevinson's director of instruction, Larry Matthews.

The day just kept getting better as Nationwide Tour pro and Atwater resident Matt Hansen stopped by to help out with some tips.

"George Kelley told me their story and asked if I could give any advice," Hansen said. "When I was in their shoes, people helped me out and gave me an opportunity, so giving back to these kids was the least I could do.

"And they were great.

"I never thought I'd be a person in a position to give advice like that and have it listened to, but the kids perked up for everything I said."

Coldiron claimed Hansen was a tremendous hit.

"That was great," Coldiron said. "Matt Hansen was so nice to the kids and he gave them really great tips.

"You could see them really taking in everything he had to say."

On Tuesday, the team took their new-found knowledge to the course.

And from the sound of things, the two-day experience isn't something they're going to forget.

"This was a once in a lifetime opportunity," junior Sam Quiroz said. "The new clubs, meeting Matt Hansen, the whole thing just motivates me a lot to go out and keep trying to get better."