FARMINGTON -- It's about getting a high-five from a hero.
The Utah Section of the PGA hosted its annual Special Olympics Short Game Challenge, where the size of the smile is always more important than the number on the scorecard, Monday at Oakridge Country Club.
In what has become one of most popular events leading up to the Utah Open golf championship -- scheduled to begin Friday and finish Sunday -- several Utah Special Olympians were paired with Utah celebrities, sportscasters and reporters, and golf professionals for a nine-hole, chipping and putting event.
And although scores were tallied -- this year's challenge was won by 34-year-old Special Olympian Denise Kasten and her teammate, local golf pro and West Point native Clay Ogden -- nearly every participant declared him- or herself a winner.
"I know everyone has really taken to this event, from the celebrities to the pros to the Special Olympians. But for me, this event carries some extra-special meaning, because I get to play with my brother," said Jared Barnes, the head golf professional at Glen Eagle Golf Course in Syracuse and the president of the Utah Section of the PGA.
For the past two seasons, Barnes' brother Brad has traveled north from St. George, specifically to play alongside Jared in the challenge.
"He looks at some of these guys as heroes," Jared Barnes said. "He gets so excited about playing. He called a few months ago to check (the itinerary)."
"We had a lot of fun today!" Brad said exuberantly. "Two of my favorite guys (to see) are Wesley Ruff and Rod Zundel."
"This event is so special. You watch the Olympians ... and even when they make a 1-foot putt it's like they've just won the championship," Jared said.
"The thing I like the most about the challenge is watching the enjoyment these Olympians have out there; and to pair them alongside some of the media guys has been great," said Scott Whitaker, executive director of the Utah Section of the PGA. "To be honest, when we started this thing, I wasn't sure how they would react. But they all seem to just love it."
Whitaker admitted that because the demand -- from both the media members and the athletes -- to play in the event has grown, they had to increase the size of the field.
"What started as just five or six teams, grew to nine teams the last couple of years and to 12 teams this year," Whitaker said. "And we probably could have done more."
The Utah Section's relationship with Special Olympics dates back almost 18 years, Whitaker said.
Last year, the Utah Section raised $36,000 for Special Olympics, through the Utah Open and other charitable events. In 2010, that figure was $35,500.
"We expect to raise at least that amount again this year," said Whitaker, who said the Utah Section has raised more than $500,000 for the Special Olympics of Utah in nearly two decades as its major charitable recipient.
"I love to watch the enthusiasm of the athletes," said Alex Fox, who sits on the board of directors for the Special Olympics of Utah. "For anyone who has been to one of these events, I think it's amazing how they inspire us as well."
"It's so cool that they do this," said Ogden, the 2011 champion of the Utah Open, who shared a high-five and a hug with his partner Denise after being announced the champions. "I had a great partner. That Denise, she is awesome. I think she one-putted about five times.
"They (the Olympians) take it pretty serious out here. They don't want to miss a putt and they want to win and they want to get a medal," Ogden said. "I'm so glad I got to do it. It's the first time I've got to play. It's one of the fun things about this tournament every year."
"This is a great event. It's so much fun for the Olympians to play with celebrities like Rod (Zundel) and Wes (Ruff) and champions like Clay. It's also nice to see them get to know more about the Special Olympians," said Special Olympics athlete and Short Game Challenge regular Chris Briseno, 35.
"I take this seriously," he said, "but I know it's all about the fun."