Summer youth golf in full swing at OGA
It's Tuesday afternoon at Woodburn's OGA golf course at Tukwila and dozens of children in blue and orange team shirts gather at the practice putting green just outside of the clubhouse.
Ranging in ages from as young as seven up to 13-years old, some take time to practice their approach shots and putting. Others use the opportunity to socialize and play. Many do both.
After a period of time in which kids trickle and join their peers, OGA Head Professional Mark Keating gathers the group together, gives a quick pep talk and sends them out on to the course with a handful of parents and coaches for fourth game of six games planned over the course of the summer.
"The more experienced ones play a full nine holes. Not full yardage, a little short," Keating said. "And then the brand new ones play six holes that are all about 100 yards each."
Some start in the middle of the fairway and shoot toward the cup. Other holes have the young golfers tee off at the regulation tees, shooting for makeshift greens at the side of the course.
A year ago, the summer golf program had 22 kids, shepherded by Keating and OGA Assistant Professional Mike Snyder. This year, the league has ballooned to more than double that — 55 golfers in total — necessitating an expanded coaching staff to chaperone the players around the course, providing tips for play, etiquette and keeping score.
The explosion in interest came about from two factors. Keating and the OGA made a big push to the Woodburn School District in the winter and spring months, making the rounds at physical education classes to provide elementary school students with a short curriculum that taught hitting techniques and let players take shots at a large, inflatable dinosaur plastered with targets dubbed "Golfzilla".
The other factor is the price. Of the 50-plus golfers in the summer program, roughly half of them are participating free of charge, courtesy of the PGA Reach program, a non-profit charity through the PGA of America that seeks to bring access to golf for young and diverse populations.
"It would never happen around here without that funding from PGA Reach," Keating said. "When I go to these schools, they're just local kids, I say you can have a 10-week golf program, in a uniform, be on a team, learn all about it, and it doesn't cost you anything. That's fantastic."
The summer golf program runs $170 for two and a half months. Anybody who is in the Woodburn School District based on the lunch program is eligible for the PGA Reach scholarship. Combined with OGA's loaner golf clubs purchased through the Oregon PGA and the Pacific Northwest PGA, and many young athletes are able to circumvent the biggest obstacle associated with the sport of golfing — the price.
"That's another huge hurdle in golf," Keating said. "If you can get that hurdle out of the way, then it's really great."
In addition to the matches, the summer program includes several weeks of practices to help new golfers learn the ropes, get familiar with the pace of play and rules of the game. During the season, golfers become familiar with the local course at OGA, and at the nearby Woodburn Golf Club.
The young athletes made a visit to the golf club earlier in the month, getting an opportunity to play on the club's unique sand greens and learn a little history of the nearly 100-year old course.
"It's a great place to learn. It's historic," Keating said. "They've already reported some repeat players."
While a number of golf courses throughout the region provide summer leagues, the size of the program at OGA allows Keating to split his program into several teams that play against each other. That means the teams don't have to worry about traveling outside the city for matches, making it that much easier to participate.
Following the conclusion of the league, the program's top 10 golfers will get the opportunity to compete in a local tournament against opposing golf course teams, with the opportunity to advance to regional, super-regional and national championship tournaments.
But most of the players are fairly new to the sport and are simply out to take advantage of the opportunity, which is something Keating welcomes. While parents and coaches supervise the matches, most of the time, the adults simply are there to sit back and watch the kids play.
"All you've got to do is get them here and get out of the way," Keating said. "They'll have a blast."
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