By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
I’ve been out of green grass facilities for more than a decade, after serving in several assistant professional roles at public golf courses and as PGA Head Professional at a private nine-hole club. I owned the golf shop at The Twaalfskill Club for a few years and carried an array of hard goods, including U.S. Kids Golf clubs, but had very few junior golfers at the club. I now split my time in golf between writing 40 monthly articles about the game and coaching a junior college team. The latter gets me off my computer and back on the lesson tee and golf course.
My writing experience has led to countless junior golf conversations with my fellow PGA Professionals. What keeps them most engaged? What’s the best teaching method? What’s trending in the world of the junior golfer? The responses often differ by level of golfers, goals of the program and even region of the country.
I recently got to experience junior golf first-hand all over again, as I assisted in running two weeks of summer camps at Alapaha Golf Center in Kingston, New York. Long-time golf professional John Durcan is the PGA owner/operator of the all-grass driving range, Par 30 executive course and indoor golf simulator center. I might have given it away with the title of this piece, but I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout and the enthusiasm of the kids themselves.
It was a true family affair as my 18- and 28-year-old sons also helped Mr. Durcan and his adult son John Jr. provide a great golf experience, ensuring the kids learned about the game, had a ton of fun and even made some new friends.
Twenty junior golfers showed up on day one of the first week, all but one of them toting their own set of golf clubs. A couple of the sets may have been a bit “ambitious” for the novice hands that were using them, but for the most part, there were many starter sets, beginning junior sets and affordable box sets with which every new golfer should kick off their golfing journey.
Mr. Durcan lined them up on the range, working on the basics of how to set up alongside the golf ball and offered the fundamentals of the golf swing – body rotation, clubface position on the backswing and follow through, etc. Some kids “got it” easier than others, but all were eager to learn and very receptive to advice and instruction. During the week I explained what it meant to be a PGA Professional and told them I was the coach of the local college team. I particularly emphasized the golf opportunities for girls and young women at the community college level and beyond.
After hitting some mid-irons on the range, followed by some drivers, we spent time on the putting green for a contest or two and then out to the golf course. Having these multiple areas of the facility allowed us to cover all aspects of the game. We even had four golf simulators upstairs in case the weather was uncooperative. Fortunately, we didn’t need them during my two weeks on staff. After all, it’s summer, and what better place to teach the game of golf than on the field of play?
Again, with each station change and drink break the kids demonstrated their excitement and eagerness to play. I also found them to be very competitive. Even the very new golfers had a competitive edge that led them to seek almost immediate improvement and impact. I was happy to offer some of the same tips and tricks I used during my junior camps years ago. There’s instant gratification as a coach when you can help a new golfer get the ball airborne. The satisfaction experienced by the golfers contributed to their competitiveness, as they strove to help their teams go low. The best players stood out, as they always do, but even the newest and youngest participants made a putt or hit that surprise chip that led their group to victory. They felt part of the team, an aspect of golf that no other sport can provide – the opportunity to play and compete among players of varied skill levels.
Most kids carried their bags, while others used pull-carts, and a couple of them even coerced their way onto the golf cart with their coach. One of my sons played music with his group, while the other, just a few years older than some of the kids he was teaching, filled in when there was an odd number of players.
Me, I’m old school. I talked about rules and etiquette and told stories of the way it used to be, fully acknowledging that many aspects of the game are better now than ever.
After four days of golf camp, we had some exciting birdies, several disappointing bogeys, a near hole-in-one or two and a lot of fun. We did it again a week or two later. Most of the kids were different, but there were a few repeat students who stepped up to be another supportive voice to the kids who’d never done it before. “When I first started playing…” “Just a few weeks ago I couldn’t…” or even something as simple as “Don’t worry, you’ll get it. It takes time.” There’s no better support than that of your peers.
It was 80-something degrees every day; so, we ended each half-day session with ice pops. I think we sometimes get caught up in the possibilities that golf can bring to our future at the expense of what it’s providing us today. Sure, it’s important to be diligent and dedicated and determined and driven, but it’s as crucial to stay in the moment, understanding that this is still a game that should be fun and provide positive memories of our youth when a red cherry ice pop all but made up for a missed two-footer that would have secured the win.