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‘That was really, really hard’: Parents return to golf course where daughter tragically died

Kellen and Talysa Hill visited Sleepy Ridge’s No. 16 tee box where their daughter was struck by a golf ball and died in her father’s arms.

Aria Hill smiles for the camera.
Courtesy Hill family

OREM — A return to the scene of unfathomable sorrow.

Kellen Hill took his wife to the No. 16 tee box at Sleepy Ridge Golf Course last Friday. It is where his errant drive tragically struck his daughter Aria, killing her as she sat nearby in a golf cart on July 15. It was the first time his wife had ever been on the course and the first time Kellen had returned to the scene where he lost his golf pal, his daughter, in an unheard-of freakish accident.

“That was really, really hard. Just standing in the tee box and looking out and just kind of seeing everything,” said Kellen.

Kellen and wife Talysa will return there this Friday where the course will host a fundraiser, “Because of Aria,” for Aria’s surviving sibling twin brothers. A tree has been planted in Aria’s honor at the 16th tee where a memorial plaque will be placed with tiny windmills. Hundreds of purple (her favorite color) balloons will be released before the start of the event where $30,000 is expected to be raised.

“I know there will be a lot of tears and I’ll be blubbering all over the place all day,” said Kellen. “I’m very nervous that I’m going to just be a total wreck. But it’ll be nice to have loved ones there with us to support us.”

It will also be a time of healing.

Aria’s story is widely known and now it will not be forgotten.

Sleepy Ridge owner Golden Holt cannot talk about the Hills and Aria without breaking down, losing his voice as tears fill his eyes. He was in Scotland playing golf at St. Andrews in August and was surprised when his caddie mentioned to him he had heard about Aria’s death. Holt then understood just how widespread the story had become. The Hills have received condolences from around the globe, including the U.S., Sweden, France, Australia and other corners of the world through Facebook posts on a page set up by a brother-in-law.

Aria’s death was covered by nearly every major news outlet and Internet sports site in the world and a GoFundMe page created by Kellen’s brother-in-law, David N. Smith, brought in donations, sympathy posts and emails from all over.

“This is an opportunity to make this place a happy place instead of a place of sorrow. Aria loved to come golfing and I took her whenever I played. This is a chance to do something positive and fill the memory with something other than a loss of life,” said Kellen. “It is a community effort to do some good.”

The day Aria died is burned into Kellen’s brain, as one can imagine.

He wasn’t supposed to be there with his daughter.

“I had called East Bay for a tee time and they had a tournament going on. I then called Talons Cove and they were filled up. I then called Sleepy Ridge and they said they could fit us in, to come on down,” Kellen recalled.

“I’ve played golf ever since I was a kid. I have never had a shot like that, never hit a golf ball like that, not ever. She was in the golf cart, away from the tee box. How it happened, I cannot explain and I don’t understand. That is not a shot I hit, ever.”

His drive went almost straight left and the ball went through the back of the cart, passing where two golf bags were tied and hit her in the back of the head. An ambulance was called but Aria died in her father’s arms on the course.

“It was never even on my mind that she was even close to the line of fire. Just because that’s not how I play golf. And she was in the cart. She was doing what she was supposed to be doing. She wasn’t running around. And it just happened,” said the father. “It was as if puzzle pieces fell into place. It was crazy.”

Holt has gathered the golf community together to make the event a respite for the Hills, something he’s committed to doing every year.

“I can’t imagine what this family has been through losing Aria on a golf course, a place that Kellen came to enjoy and have fun with his daughter that day. I can’t even hardly talk about it …”

Kellen said, “We are trying to turn Sleepy Ridge into a happy place for our family rather than a place where life was taken away from us. This will be an annual event that will hopefully help us find a way to feel peace rather than stress and turmoil — a celebration of her life. We are excited for that part of it. Excited, but nervous.”

Find peace, Hills. Golf is certainly capable of helping you do that. It should never be a game that haunts you.

Good luck.