Jason Montoya’s Journey from Making Pueblo History to Becoming a Beacon for Native American Junior Golf
By Bob Denney, PGA Historian Emeritus
Retired PGA Professional Bob Lowry recalls a summer day in 1994 when Jason Montoya, then eight years old, walked up to him -- then the PGA Director of Instruction at Santa Ana Pueblo’s Junior Golf Camp -- with a declaration.
“Mr. Lowry, I want to be just like you when I grow up,” said Montoya. “I want to be a golf instructor.”
Lowry was taken aback by the youngster with the ready smile.
“You’re a Santa Ana Pueblo member and this is the Santa Ana Golf Course,” said Lowry. “If you want to continue on like you are, I see you running this place one day.”
Lowry, along with son Rob, also managed the Santa Ana Golf Academy and from 1996-2000 The First Tee of Central New Mexico. The elder Lowry became close friends with Montoya, whom he called a “little trooper” and whose goal remained undeterred.
Bernalillo High School had never fielded a boys’ golf team until Montoya took it upon himself to launch one in 2000, during his freshman year. He recruited four of his buddies and the Bernalillo Spartans were on the links.
“It was just me and four of my buddies who really didn’t play golf,” said Montoya, now 34 and--to no one’s surprise— a PGA Teaching Professional at Santa Ana Golf Club. “I said, ‘Hey, you want to play golf? They said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘Good, I’ll take care of it, and, lo and behold, we got a team. They were true friends who helped me pursue what I wanted to do.”
The school appointed Alden Paquin, a tribal member and teacher, to serve as boys’ golf coach. Santa Ana Golf Club allowed the team to borrow golf clubs, practice, and hit range balls at no charge. There were coaching changes the final two years and 12 student golfers by Montoya’s senior season.
Montoya’s game rapidly improved. He recorded four holes-in-one, with one his senior season at Twin Warriors Golf Club and the other three the following year. “Since then, I've never come close,” joked Montoya.
As Montoya grew in the game, Lowry witnessed the evolution of someone who would become a popular junior golf coach in the Sun Country PGA Section. “The kiddos all love him,” said Lowry. “I’ve seen it up close, and I’ve coached thousands of kiddos.”
In 2010, Montoya graduated from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and its Professional Golf Management program. “The great thing for me,” said Montoya, “was choosing a school that was just beginning its PGA curriculum rather than one that was established. We were starting on the foundation. We were all learning together, using our brains to build a program.”
In 2012, Montoya became the first Pueblo member to be elected to PGA of America Membership. Fast forward to 2019, when Montoya was the recipient of the Section’s Youth Player Development Award.
Those achievements helped Montoya keep his heritage and goals in equilibrium. “I have always been interested in the history of who we are - the Tamaya [“TA-my-ah”] people,” said Montoya. “I have been held back by learning our native language -- Keres [“Care-es”] -- but I work to understand it and to improve myself every day.”
New Mexico is a state of unique Native American communities with 23 tribes, 19 of which are Pueblos. Santa Ana Pueblo, home of the Tamayameh people, have occupied its current site in Central New Mexico since the late 1500s. Spanish explorers-turned-invaders discovered the mountains near the Pueblo on the Feast Day of Saint Anne, and named them the Santa Ana Mountains.
After much strife and sacrifice, it would take nearly two centuries before the Tamayameh would be able to return to their present location, nearly 145,000 square acres about 27 miles northwest of Albuquerque.
“Our struggles were no different from any other tribal nation,” said Jay Garcia, former lieutenant governor of Santa Ana Pueblo and now chair of the board of directors of Santa Ana Golf Corporation. “I remember my grandpa once said, ‘We never knew there was a Great Depression. We were always poor, but we had water, land, crops, sheep, cattle, deer and elk. We always had food and never went hungry.’ ”
Garcia is one of many who recognized Montoya’s potential at an early age.
“We always had a spot reserved for him to pursue an administrative post, but Jason was committed to teaching and he has built his brand in Jason Montoya Golf,” said Garcia. “His focus has always been to grow the game. He’s a great success story.”
Montoya’s success story follows that of his mentor, Bob Lowry, now 74, whose PGA career is one of survival and redemption. Retiring at age 66 after a career as an electrician for the Public Service Company of New Mexico, Lowry wanted to become a senior tour professional.
That dream ended during a fishing trip in the wilderness, where he fell off a 30-foot cliff and broke his neck and back. “After six months, I was learning how to walk again,” said Lowry. “I tell people if you don’t believe in angels, you haven’t been near me. My Plan B was to teach.”
In 2008, Lowry underwent triple bypass heart surgery. After a talk with his wife, he decided to step down from his post at Santa Ana Golf Club, two years after building a three-hole practice complex at the club.
“I’m most proud of that three-hole course,” said Lowry. “It’s where the kiddos could play for free. It was once a dirt lot. The PGA did the architecture for me, someone loaned me a bulldozer and I got someone to drive it and we got loaned some pipe. A $300,000 project was finished for just under $70,000.
“When I got into the PGA (1999), one of my legacies was that kids could play and play for free. Jason uses it all the time with his kiddos. And the Notah Begay III Foundation continues to utilize it.”
On his way to elevating his coaching, Montoya has weathered a period of soul-searching about his own health. In the summer of 2018, he was carrying 335 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame. He was diagnosed as pre-diabetic, having come from a family where his mother and aunt are diabetic.
Unable to keep up with his students on the course, he made the decision “to start taking care of myself.” Montoya has shed 75 pounds to date, dropping from a 42- to a 38-inch waist, and slips on a 2XL shirt, not a 3XL. He’s walking the course with his students. Montoya’s EleVate Golf Mind Body academy combines golf lessons, working the mind on and off the course, and building physical mobility.
“The academy has helped me and I believe it has helped our students achieve new goals,” said Montoya. “My energy level is great and my golf swing has now altered. I am feeling so much better about everything. My goal is to get to my high school weight of 240. I’m working for that.”
And Montoya has stepped up his effort to bring golf to all members of his Pueblo and beyond. He has aligned himself with Nike’s N7 Fund, which supports organizations that deliver programs and services to increase physical activity and support education and career development for youth in Native American and indigenous communities in North America.
Since 2009, the fund has awarded more than $8 million in grants to more than 270 communities and organizations. The funds are administered by the Charities Aid Foundation of America.
Two PGA Professionals, Roger Martinez and Derek Gutierrez, have followed Montoya’s professional career from the start.
Martinez, a former PGA General Manager at Santa Ana and Twin Warriors, was there on March 6, 2012, when Montoya earned his PGA Member pin. Martinez is now Vice President of Business Development and Acquisitions for Out of Bounds/Southwest Greens.
Gutierrez, who started at Santa Ana Golf Club Inc. in 1996, guided Montoya in golf operations, public relations and marketing. A former president of the Sun Country PGA Section and an incoming PGA District 12 Director, Gutierrez is now PGA Director of Golf/General Manager for Santa Ana Golf Corporation..
“When we opened doors to [Twin Warriors] , we had two tribal members playing golf. When I retired from the resort in 2015, there were 500 playing the game,” said Martinez. “It’s a wonderful story for a culture. Golf was a foreign sport but became something they all loved.
“Jason was one of our kids. He loved it and continued to develop. Some of our members ask for advice for an instructor, and I don't hesitate to send them to Jason. It’s not just a gift, he has a real passion for it.”
Gutierrez also is a former chair of the PGA Diversity and Inclusion Committee and had a hand in developing PGA LEAD, a two-year leadership program to establish a deep bench of diverse PGA Members who aspire to ascend through the volunteer leadership ranks of the Association.
“I was introduced to Jason in junior tribal golf camps, and he stood out immediately as someone that not only had great energy and had a wonderful persona,” said Gutierrez. “He was someone who had in his DNA talent for this sport. It was not long after that I knew this kid had a bright future as a player first. In my 24 years here, I have developed a deep passionate love for the people of Tamaya. Many of those kids we taught or mentored are now board members.”
Montoya may not fully speak the Keres language, but he has always been in tune with Tamaya. “To me that’s home, our culture, and it is in my heart,” said Montoya.
Tamaya meh ewo sutah It’s who I am
Tamaya meh Na Sutah It is who I will always be
Hopah haastiirgh As part of my community, the land, and the air I breathe
PGA of America
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