First Freshman Female Joins Pinelands Regional Varsity Golf Team
Danielle Elia is the first freshman girl to play on the Pinelands Regional High School varsity golf team. The team tied its last match, against Monsignor Donovan, last week and finished the season with eight wins, six losses and one tie. But Elia was pleased that she had shot the nine-hole Bey Lea Golf Course in Toms River at par 36.
The Pinelands team made it to state but did not win in its division. “We lost the division championship by three strokes,” said Elia, 15. “I shot a 45 for the nine holes at Edge Ridge in Lakewood.”
The team consists of 18 golfers, with five varsity players and five JVs.
“The coach decides the order of players; I play fourth, fifth and third depending on who I’m matched with. All the scores get added at the end, but you want to be matched with a person with the same skill level.”
Elia’s entire family plays golf. “My father, mother and sister play, and my uncles do, too.”
Her back yard is the Ocean County Golf Course at Atlantis in Little Egg Harbor. A family friend, “Uncle” Rick Sefanoli, the original owner of the restaurant concession at Atlantis, gave Elia her first golf club.
Her mother, Grace, worked at Sea Oaks Country Club for many years, driving the beverage cart on the course. Golf lessons for her two daughters were a perk.
“I’m so excited that she’s on the varsity team. There are 18 students on the team; only five get to play (on varsity) each time. It’s very competitive,” said Grace.
The team practices at Sea Oaks; during the school year, Elia also gets to practice at Atlantis for free. “I have a country club card for the summer – I get to play the full 18 holes for $18.”
Whenever she can, Elia practices from early in the morning to the afternoon.
With help from her uncle Richard Flannigan, who lives down the block, she entered the Rutgers Open Junior Tour last year and placed fifth in her division for 11- to 14-year-olds.
“I was really nervous, and I’ve improved so much, I’m really ready to go back and play in July.” The Junior Tour is for 11- to 18-year-olds.
“I like being matched with people I don’t know, like in the Rutgers Open,” Elia said. “I also hope to be in the Junior LPGA at the Seaview Marriott.
“I like playing on courses I don’t know; I like the challenge of playing on a new course; I’m able to think about the shot. The thinking part of the course, in my opinion, makes you a better golfer.”
Elia’s driver is a Taylormade Burner Superfast that she was fitted for. “It feels great to hit the ball clean, to swing and finish and see it land good. It motivates you.”
Her other clubs are Ping, Wilson and Callaway, and her putter is a Ping.
Elia is already planning for a career in golf and looking into Division 1 schools in Florida.
“I do want to go pro; that’s my ambition. I think I’m a good golfer. I’ve improved a lot over the last three months; I think I have what it takes to go pro.”
— Pat Johnson