Growing the Game – Junior Golf
by Rob Krieger, PGA Director of Instruction
It’s that time of year again for parents and their children to start making plans for the summer. As a kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I remember summers getting up early, delivering papers, and then going to play golf. My friends and I would beg our parents to drive us to the course, or when they couldn’t, we would walk to the course to play. The season always ended with a big tournament and a huge raffle of golf equipment.
The Blackbrook Junior Golf Program taught me about playing competitive golf, and so much more. Each Friday morning in the summer, we would get a group lesson from the pros and then we would go play. The season always ends with a big tournament and a huge raffle of golf equipment where the juniors would win everything from golf balls to full sets of PowerBilt Golf Clubs. Little did I know how much a part golf would become in my life. All I knew was that I loved to play golf. It led me to become a golf professional and toward the PGA of America. Golf also brought me twenty-one hundred miles west from my home where I started my own business of teaching golf and showing others how to play the game I learned as a kid. It is my hope and the hope of my fellow professionals that the juniors of today will learn to enjoy the game as much as we have. The lessons they learn from the game will help them grow from children into adults, and will last them for the rest of their lives. They will then enthusiastically share it with others.
In our area, we are very fortunate to have two great junior golf programs for kids so they are able to enjoy golf throughout the summer. The Virgin Valley Junior Golf Association (VVJGA) is located in Mesquite, Nevada, and the Junior Association of Golfers (JAG) Program is located in St. George, Utah. Both have been very successful in helping juniors prepare to play golf in high school as well as in college.
The goal of VVJGA is to introduce youth to the game and to encourage its members to play in high school and participate in tournament golf. It also prepares them to apply for college scholarships and to take part in the many opportunities offered while playing golf as an undergrad. They also stress not everyone will have the desire to play competitively, but by learning to play while they are young they can make new friends and play golf throughout their lives.
Tom Winchester who is the head professional at the Casablanca and Palms Golf Courses, has been running the program since 2008. He says there are roughly seventy-five kids that sign up, and they wouldn’t be able to do any of it without Marsh Sherwood and Marisa Hansen, the administrators of the program. “They are invaluable, as well as the parents, volunteers, and the local professionals and their courses who donate their time and resources to support the kids. Year after year, Mesquite Gaming is the biggest sponsor. They provide money, facilities, resources, and staff to make it all happen.”
The program is designed to have nine, one-hour clinics provided by the local pros and volunteers. The clinics are three days per week for three weeks, and begin in June. After the clinics, there are six weeks of tournaments at the area courses which end with an awards banquet in August. Juniors participating receive discounted green fees at all courses, Free range balls and equipment are available for those in need, and those benefits last all year. Sign-up begins the middle of April at the Palms or Casablanca GC’s and is fifty dollars per child. Tom says, “Even if there are limited funds or equipment, don’t let that stop you from doing it. Come and try it.”
For Tom, junior golf taught him responsibility. He learned that everything was on him and he was his own referee. He started when he was eight years old, and it became a family activity, with his dad and mom traveling just for golf. He eventually earned all state honors. He wants to pass his love of the game on to the kids to teach them they can be competitive while having fun. “Even if they don’t want to play at a high level, they can learn and experience a sense of personal achievement.”
The JAG Program in southern Utah is designed to provide junior golfers affordable access to local courses while developing their skills through instruction and golf tournaments. Colby Cowan, Director of Golf Operations for the City of St. George, says, “The program gives boys and girls, seven to seventeen years of age, the opportunity to learn rules, etiquette, traditions, and skills required to appreciate and enjoy the game . . . while building character and friendships.” Over five hundred kids enrolled in 2016, and it is expected to be higher in 2017. Michael Orchard, an assistant at Southgate Golf Course, and tournament coordinator for the JAG program says; “We have about eight tournaments throughout the year at different courses with fifty to one hundred players at each event. The highlight for the players is the Match Play Tournament and the Points for Player of the Year in each age group. This kind of competition helps them get ready for high school golf and to play at the collegiate level. I am a product of the JAG program, and it prepared me for the next level and to play golf my whole life.” Cowan also stated that, “JAG has produced multiple players that have gone on to play in college, as well as going into the golf business.”
The annual JAG membership fee is forty dollars, and they receive:
- Three dollar green fees at St. George City Courses, May through September
- Six dollar green fees October through April
- Range ball discounts
- JAG T-shirt
- Free instruction clinics and rules/etiquette classes
- Eight optional tournaments
- Five optional parent/child events
- One optional Elks sponsored skills challenge
- Mid-year pool party
- Kickoff party on May 13 from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Southgate Driving Range
Cowan says, “Whether you’re experienced or not, JAG has something for everyone.”
Registration is online at www.stgcity.org/golf starts April 10 and runs through June 9 .
Golf is a game of a lifetime that teaches kids a sport, life skills, and influences them beyond their youth. Help us to grow the game of golf where integrity and honor in sports still exist. Sign up your junior in our local programs today, and maybe you will start them on the lifelong path of fairways and greens!
Rob Krieger – PGA Director of Instruction – Red Rock Golf Instruction