By Matt Hombach
Matthew Jones looked toward the green. He knew he had the right club; it was all a matter of execution.
His father Tim gave a final word of advice. "Just hit it nice and easy, Matthew."
Jones kept his head down and striped a nice 5-iron shot onto the fringe. The ear-to-ear grin on his face said it all.
"Let’s go putt it in the hole," Matthew said as he raced to the putting green.
"Matthew has hit some shots before when he comes out with me when I play," Tim said.
"But he’s never really learned the basics of the game and played before."
All that changed for Matthew and more than 40 other kids when they took part in Gunpowder Falls Golf Course’s weeklong Junior Golf Academy.
The young golfers, ages 6-16, spent the week learning the fundamentals of the game. The pros start out with the basics of the grip, stance and swing. From there, they move on to full shots, the short game, golf etiquette and course management.
"When you’re working with 40 people who have never played the game before, safety is our No. 1 priority, regardless of if they are junior golfers or if we’d be working with adults who are new to the game," said PGA professional Bill Cullum, who organized the clinic.
"Beyond that, we want to get young people excited about the game and arm them with enough information and experience to actually play nine holes with mom or dad."
The culmination of the week’s activities is a nine-hole round at the executive-style course. Parents are invited to turn out for the last day of the academy to chaperone and support the young golfers in what for many is their first real round of golf.
Many of the academy alumni come back year after year. Alec Yankee, 9, of Perry Hall has come to the clinics at Gunpowder for the past three years. This year, he brought along his younger sister Mary, who is interested in learning about the game.
"It’s a great little program," said Alec’s mother, Lisa. "It’s amazing how much he has progressed in the last couple years. His dad loves it because now they can go out and play together."
In addition to learning the finer points of the game, it was evident many of the kids were developing "coping mechanisms" for some of the more frustrating aspects of golf.
After hitting a perfect shot to the rough just short of the green, Ethan Durr of Fallston mishit his chip shot to the pin and left it a bit short.
"That grass is too long by the green," Ethan said, regarding the greenside rough. "It’s hard to hit out of, plus there was a fly in my eye!"
"He was so excited to play today," added Ethan’s father, Dan Durr, who was serving as caddie. "He was up early and looking forward to getting out on the course."
While golf has boomed due to the popularity of Tiger Woods, the growth of the game has slowed in recent years. Golf courses throughout the country have recognized that it’s unlikely that adults will pick up the game, having never played before.
The junior golf clinic like the one held recently at Gunpowder Falls not only helps teach kids about sportsmanship, self control and the value of hard work, but also helps ensure the long-term success of golf.
"It’s important to expose kids to the game early in life," Cullum said. "It’s also important to make the process of learning and playing the game of golf fun and enjoyable. Once the kids leave our academy, it will be up to them to pick up the clubs again and motivate themselves to practice and play."
After a week of instruction and fun competition, each of the junior golfers seems to have found a favorite aspect of the game.
Ian Moskunas from Carney looks forward to working on his short game.
"I really like chipping and putting, getting the ball in the hole," he said.
Ethan Durr let his actions speak for him when asked what his favorite part of golf was.
"Let me show you," he said, as he dropped a ball on the grass and took a healthy cut with his driver, sending the ball down the fairway.
Eli Knauer’s favorite part of the game may very well be the 19th hole in the clubhouse.
"I like playing, but my favorite part is the snacks afterwards," he said.
Parents who are interested in enrolling their child in a clinic for next season need to remember to make plans early. Many clinics fill up quickly, so signing up in early spring is crucial to getting the date that fits best with school and vacation schedules.
The Baltimore County and Baltimore City courses all have full information on their junior programs on their Web sites.
Issue 2.32: August 9, 2007