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From left, Erin Donovan and David Henderson pose during their group’s play at the annual DeSoto County Economic Development Council’s golf tournament. Donovan, finishing her freshman year at DeSoto Central High School, is the first winner of the Jonathan Kelly Memorial Golf Scholarship to the Golf House Tennessee Learning Center program next month. Henderson is the grandfather of the young man for whom the scholarship is named for. 

A young man who loved the game of golf is being remembered for his golf passion through the start of a scholarship to a deserving young DeSoto County player.

At the annual DeSoto County Economic Development Council Golf Tournament held earlier this month at Cherokee Valley Golf Club in Olive Branch, DeSoto Central freshman golfer Erin Donovan received the first Jonathan Kelly Memorial Golf Scholarship.

The award to Donovan will cover the cost of a week spent at the Golf House Tennessee Learning Center in Franklin, Tenn., where she will receive lodging, food, and a week’s instruction in the game.

Already an accomplished golfer, Donovan is the reigning DeSoto County and MHSAA 6A district girls’ champion. She finished eighth out of 48 players at this year’s MHSAA 6A state meet.

It’s been a good year on the course for Donovan, even at a young age.

“For the most part I shot in the 80s but I did shoot 75 in one of my matches,” Erin said. “At state, I shot 83-84.”

It was Adam Payne, a golf instructor at Wedgewood Golf Club, who recommended that Donovan be considered for the first scholarship award.

Jonathan Kelly’s story revolves around a love for the sport and his desire to play, despite a medical condition that eventually cut his life too short.

Jonathan was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a severe congenital heart defect in which the left side of the heart is underdeveloped.

It is a condition that would eventually be fatal, as happened to Jonathan. The family lived in Northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C. at the time, but later moved to DeSoto County and Jonathan attended school at DeSoto Central.

“He had to enter into a series of heart surgeries as a tiny infant and lived with them through the remaining years of his life,” said grandfather David Henderson, who lives in DeSoto County and who instilled the love for golf in his grandson.

Henderson gave his grandson a plastic club and plastic golf balls that Jonathan used to develop his skills to where the young boy was hitting shots from a mat on the home’s deck over a fence into the neighbor’s backyard.

Kelly eventually “graduated” to a set of real golf clubs and a golf cart was reconditioned for him to use as he played with Henderson at Cherokee Valley Golf Course, where the family lived nearby.

Participation in youth golf seminars kept him active as much as possible and Jonathan was able to watch Henderson score his only hole-in-one from the seventh tee at Cherokee Valley.

Donovan also started her interest in golf at a young age, thanks to her father.

“I started by going out with my dad a lot and then it kind of turned into something more serious after a couple of golf camps and playing in the Junior PGA league,” Erin said. “I like that it’s an outside sport and how individually competitive it is.”

Henderson said he was surprised by the DeSoto Council’s announcement last year that it would be offering the scholarship in Kelly’s name, adding that Donovan was an excellent selection.

“I didn’t know it was happening, that they created this golf scholarship in Jonathan’s name,” Henderson said. “We had the opportunity to name the first one this year and she’s going to be a hard act to follow.”

The award is given to a DeSoto County youth golfer between the ages of 10-17. The youngster can attend any public or private school, or be homeschooled, but he or she must live in the county.

A scholarship application is submitted with a recommendation letter from the player’s golf instructor supporting the player for consideration. The deadline for the application is April 1 of each year to Susan Fernandez at the DeSoto Council.

Donovan will be attending the Golf House Tennessee Learning Center next month and it looks like the money will be an investment in a promising golf future.

“Golf is definitely something I want to pursue in college and hopefully play professionally,” said Donovan, who impressed Henderson when they were part of a foursome that played in the Council’s golf tournament.

“We got to play the 18 holes in the scramble and she was audacious,” Henderson said. “The kid could hit a golf ball like you would not believe.”

Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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