Melissa Joyal displayed a natural talent for golf after picking up a club for the first time as a freshman at Fort Vancouver High School, but she knew that she couldn’t rely solely on her physical gifts to achieve her goals. Her intense passion for the game allowed her to develop an equally strong work ethic to match her abilities.
“I’d go to the Vanco Golf Range in Vancouver, and the owner, Chuck Milne, let me hit balls until he shut off the lights and locked the doors,” she said. “Almost every day, I practiced until he told me I had to go. I had that drive to be the best I could. The competitive nature in me came naturally.”
Throughout the course of the next 25 years, Joyal maintained that competitive nature, even though she couldn’t always play golf as much as she wanted to. And now she’ll have a chance to test herself against some of the best amateur players in the United States.
The Washougal resident is one of four recent Orchard Hills Country Club champions who will participate in the 2021 Professional Golf Association (PGA) National Club Championship, to be held at the Pinehurst Golf Resort in Pinehurst, North Carolina, on March 13-15, 2021.
This event is a “celebration of the best amateur players and their PGA professionals who help them achieve greatness at their local club,” according to its website. It will feature four men’s and women’s divisions consisting of more than 300 players from around the United States.
OHCC members Ryan Beardmore (men), Jimmy Greear (senior men) and Penny Gibbons (senior women) also are invited to the tournament. All four golfers won their respective division titles at the 2020 OHCC club championships, held Aug. 1-2.
“It’s very exciting for them to get the chance to play a course with historic roots and a championship pedigree,” said OHCC PGA professional Kevin Coombs. “It’s great to know there’s a reward for hard work, and that you no longer have to be a (pro golfer) to compete against other excellent golfers on great golf courses.”
Coombs is working to put together a travel package for other OHCC members to see one of the world’s most renowned golf courses up close and cheer on their friends.
“We have a pretty tight-knit community here,” Coombs said. “We all like to revel in each other’s successes, so for people to be able to root for (their fellow members) and enjoy one of the great golf resorts in the world is going to be awesome.”
Beardmore, a Vancouver resident who joined OHCC in 2019, won the OHCC title on his first try. He played at Mountain View High School and Lower Columbia College (LCC), and served as a PGA professional for seven years. But after leaving the golf industry in 2000, he didn’t play much until joining OHCC.
“I’ve always been able to hit the ball a long way,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that’s my strength and my weakness all in one. I’m working on dialing things back and playing smarter, not longer. Golf is the perfect sport. You can play it pretty much all your life and it’s never the same game the next day. Just when you think you have things figured out, you quickly realize you really don’t.”
Beardmore said the PGA event “sounds amazing.”
“I’m really looking forward to playing a golf course like Pinehurst,” he said. “It’s always fun to see how your own game stacks up against other great players.”
Joyal also played at LCC after a standout prep career, and later participated in a variety of high-level amatuer tournaments around the Pacific Northwest. But now she’s ready to take her game to the next level.
“I’m making a career change, so I’ll have more schedule flexibility,” she said. “Now that my son is 18, I’ve got more time on my hands, so my goal play is to play competitively for the next 10 years. This is kind of a good start, doing something like this. I never had any lessons, but I started working with Kevin recently. I said, ‘I want to get down to a solid 2 (handicap).’ I’m pretty long off the tee, and a good putter, but I want to revisit bunker play, chipping, short shots, things that I haven’t honed in on due to a lack of practice.”
Joyal’s most recent club title was her ninth in the past 11 years.
“For me personally, there’s not a lot of female golfers at my club that have single-digit handicaps, so to have a chance to compete with other women (of similar ability) is exciting,” she said.
The club championship title is the first for Greear, who joined OHCC after moving to Washougal about 20 years ago. Last year he tied for first, but fell short in a three-hole playoff.
“So it was very fun and satisfying this year,” he said. “I’m by no means one of the best players at the club or in my division, necessarily, but sometimes that’s just the way things work out.”
Greear said that he hopes that the Pinehurst tournament “will be fun for (him) and everyone who decides to come along.”
“I’m not expecting to do well since many of the players will be much better than myself, but I’m looking forward to the experience of being there and the history of the place and the game,” he said. “And you just never know what might happen — that’s golf.”
Gibbons, who didn’t reply to an email from the Post-Record, is a savvy player, according to Coombs.
“Penny understands strength and weakness as a player,” Combs said. “She uses her strengths to her advantage to minimize the effects of her weaknesses.”