Local golf programs offer kids a chance to tee off and have fun while learning a new sport for life.
It’s dusk at Timbers at Troy Golf Course in Elkridge, and as the smell of fresh-mowed grass mingles with late-day mugginess, a golfer approaches the tee box, mentally debating between using a hybrid or an iron. He sets up, checking his form, alignment and balance, then begins his swing. First there’s the whipping sound, then the snap of the clubface on impact with the ball, which soars down the fairway, a straight 190 yards. Just another day on the course for Chazz Clark, except for the fact that he’s 12 years old, and he – along with kids just like him – are becoming more the norm than the oddity at local courses.
Walk an area golf course and you’ll see it’s not just a sport for middle-aged men anymore. Kids aren’t lassoed with outdated images of stodgy, ill-dressed golfers and country-club snobbery. Rather, they’ve grown up in a post-Tiger Woods era, where golfing is hip, fun, athletic and, increasingly, a ticket to college scholarship, says Bob Heintz, junior golf director for the Middle Atlantic PGA (MAPGA), which oversees Maryland and Virginia.
The rise in kids’ golf is evident in various areas, despite the weakened economy. Kid-centric programs offered by groups like The First Tee, an organization committed to teaching life skills through the game of golf, continue to grow in offerings and attendance. “We had our best year last year … [with] over 700 students,” says Don Van Deusen, executive director of The First Tee of Howard County and assistant general manager at Columbia’s Fairway Hills Golf Club.
There’s also been an increase in the level of competition at the junior level, says Heintz. “A lot of juniors are getting into two-day tournaments … When I started six years ago, we had a tournament a week. Today, if a kid wants to play every single day in a tournament, they can,” he adds.
In years past, “you had to go over to the western shore for kids’ golf events. But now … I’ve seen great things on the shore here as far as junior golf goes,” says John Mlynarski, head golf professional at Harbourtowne Golf Resort in St. Michaels. Both Mlynarski’s sons are strong students and golf scholarship recipients.
Besides tournaments, parents and kids in the Chesapeake district can choose from mini-clinics for the kindergarten crowd, summer camps for various age groups, weekly after-school clinics for all ages and much more.