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In Arizona, more Navajo take to the dirt for ‘Rez golf’

In northeast Arizona, much of the land of the Navajo Nation is harsh and inhospitable. It’s dry, rocky and dotted with dense sagebrush. Yet a growing number of Navajo are taking to the desert with clubs, balls and tees. Called “Rez golf,” the pursuit is both a competitive sport and a family pastime. Arizona State University journalism students Jake Trybulski and Drake Dunaway share the story.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    There is an old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. That is certainly true in the Navajo Nation.

    From the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, students Jake Trybulski and Drake Dunaway explore the creation of a sport called Rez golf.

  • Jake Trybulski:

    In the vast Navajo Nation that covers most of Northeast Arizona, the game isn't always fast. However, not many people are in a rush.

  • Marcus Tulley:

    Rez golf, it's dirt, frustration and a lot of cussing, but it's fun, though.

  • Man:

    Oh, it's sandy, man.

  • Jake Trybulski:

    Donald Benally, his two brothers and his cousin, Freddie, created their course in Steamboat, Arizona, which they proudly stake claim to as being the first of its kind.

  • Man:

    As far as I know, we are the ones that generated Rez golf.

  • Jake Trybulski:

    Whether they were the first to tee off into sage brush lined fairways or not, the sport is growing. Rez golf courses are popping up all over the Navajo nation.

  • Repairata Ben:

    They actually have a course in Fort Defiance as well. And then they have one in Shonto. There's one actually in Cottonwood and then Tuba City. So it's around.

  • Jake Trybulski:

    And in Low Mountain, Marvis Ben and his family founded Lowerville Stingers Golf Club.

  • Marvis Ben:

    Well, we didn't really have much, nothing to do around here, besides basketball was the main one. But then, one day, I saw Michael Jordan when he retired. He was playing — out playing golf, so that's how it started.

  • Jake Trybulski:

    On this day, it's Lowerville's seventh annual tournament. And while it might not be a PGA tour crowd, people come from all over the Navajo Nation.

  • Larron Badoni:

    I like it because I bond with my brothers and my dad. That's the only way we can connect. We can't just go out and go to a movie theater or go to the mall.

  • Jake Trybulski:

    What they do have on the Navajo Nation is land, a lot of it. So why not make a par five almost 600-yards long? And just like traditional courses, Rez golf courses have their own unique features that make each one different.

  • Man:

    What would Tiger Woods do?

  • Marvis Ben:

    My sister, she lives right there, threw out an old carpet, so I just put a hole in it, put it right there, and that's how — the ball rolls perfectly.

  • Donald Benally:

    We don't like to call them greens. We just like to call them putting surfaces, because there is no green on the green.

  • Jake Trybulski:

    Maintenance requires hard work, like any other course, but instead of using specialized mowers and advanced technology, Rez golfers get a little bit of help from those they share the land with.

  • Larron Badoni:

    The landscape here, it's not just meant for us. It's meant for the cattle and the livestock. There's food for them all around. I mean, we're just literally stepping on it as we go from hole to hole. That's Rez golf.

  • Freddie Yazzie:

    We don't want to just clear the whole thing. Sage is much more Rez everywhere. If you go around the Navajo Reservation, you see a lot of sage. And that is part of our bunkers. If they hit it in there, I mean, tough luck. That's Rez Golf.

  • Jake Trybulski:

    And while they are family courses, both are open to anyone who wants to play, free of charge, because this game is one to share.

  • Freddie Yazzie:

    This kind of reminds me of way back when St. Andrews, when they first started their golf. This is how they started. And this is how they took care of their golf course.

    And that's where the whole thing started. We're kind of proud of what we have. It puts a lump in my throat when I see all these people, all these people that we don't know. We got to know a lot of people through golf.

  • Jake Trybulski:

    For the "PBS NewsHour" I'm Jake Trybulski with Cronkite News on the Navajo Nation.

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