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Two local golfers to represent U.S. at international mini golf tournament

Farmington’s Caleb Smith, left, and Simsbury’s David Vayda will be representing the U.S. at the WAGT Finals in the Czech Republic next week.

Two golfers from the Farmington Valley will be headed to the Czech Republic next week and will be the only American athletes at the World Adventure Golf Tour’s final championship miniature golf tournament on April 27-28.

Simsbury’s David Vayda and Farmington High senior Caleb Smith will be participating in the tournament with 36 other miniature golfers from around the world.

Vayda and Smith earned their spots in the WAG Tour Finals with their finishes at the Mattahorn International Pro-Am tournament last September at Matterhorn Mini Golf in Canton. Vayda won the tournament with an ace on the fifth hole and Smith finished third. The second place finisher was unable to make the trip.

The WAG Tour final will conclude the first year of the World Minigolf Sport Federation tour, which consists of 12 tournaments in 11 countries. The Matterhorn International Pro-Am was the only U.S. stop on the tour.

“The best miniature golfers in the world will be competing there,” Vayda said. “There will be the pressure that comes with it but the practice here before we go will make a lot of difference. We put in as much practice as we can.”

Smith said, “Obviously, it is a really special opportunity for me to go overseas to play miniature golf. (His Farmington High classmates) definitely think it’s a little strange because no one has heard of a world tour for mini golf.”

Only of the biggest adjustments that Vayda and Smith need to make is with equipment. They will be using different putters and will have the choice of any type of ball on the course. Unlike professional golf where the golfers use the same ball, mini golfers at the WAGT final came use any type of ball they want.

“Different balls have different textures. They are made from different materials,” Vayda said. “Depending on what you are trying to do on a hole, you can use a different ball. You could use 18 different types of balls to get the desired result you are looking for.”

Caleb Smith, left, and David Vayda practice at Lessard Lanes in Plainville recently.

The 36 golfers will play five rounds of 18 holes each with the final 16 golfers advancing to head-to-head play in a single-elimination format to determine a tournament champion. The tournament purse is 5,000 euros or around $5,300 dollars.

The tournament champion wins 3,000 euros or around $3,100 dollars.

Vayda, 54, grew up in Simsbury and began playing golf with his father as a youngster at the age of 14. He wasn’t quite good enough to play at Simsbury High but has been playing golf for more than 40 years and has played on the Connecticut Amateur Tour.

But he has fond memories of playing on the nine-hole public golf course in Canton, now home to the Farmington Valley Shoppes.

“We used to play on Saturday morning with my Dad in a league and, man, I loved it. What a great memory I had of that golf course,” he said.

He proudly recalled the only hole-in-one of his career was in Canton. “It was the ninth hole, a par 3, downhill, 129 yards,” Vayda said.

“(Playing in Canton) really fostered my whole growth and love of the game of golf,” he said. “The memories you share with your family growing up and being go out there with your family to play golf on a local course without any pressure was a beautiful thing.”

Vayda has taken his miniature golf career more seriously over the past three years, winning the three-round Matterhorn International Pro-Am on the fifth hole of a playoff.

Smith plays on the varsity golf team at Farmington. Earlier this year, he won the Central Connecticut Conference (CCC) tournament championship with a birdie on the first playoff hole at Stanley Golf Course in New Britain. The competitive season for the River Hawks boys golf team is in the fall.

Smith, 17, also plays on the Farmington High boys basketball team that had a fine season, winning 17 games and advancing to the semifinals of the CCC Tournament. Seventeen wins was the most since Farmington won the state title with a 23-4 record in 2019.

“Playing competitive level for real golf helps me to handle that (pressure),” Smith said.

He is taking some basketball skills with him onto the course. “Focus,” he said. “Just being able to focus on each shot and knowing that every shot is a new shot.”

Smith began playing miniature golf more seriously after playing in a league with his father at Matterhorn. Two years ago, he won the amateur division of the Matterhorn International Pro-Am.

There is a Go-Fund-Me fundraiser underway to help Vayda and Smith with travel costs. So far, they’ve raised $1,410 of their goal of $4,000 with 19 donations.

Learn more about the WAGT Finals in the Czech Republic. Additional information is found on the WAGT’s Facebook page.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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