Hooked: Program introduces kids to golf

Posted: Sunday, June 12, 2005

Consider 11-year-old Ashley McCamon hooked.

McCamon is one of 16 kids ages 8 to 13 who participated in a Hook A Kid On Golf Tee Level Clinic Monday through Friday at Birch Ridge Golf Course in Soldotna. It was the first Tee Level Clinic ever held in Alaska.

The program, open only to kids who have never played golf before, provides three hours of skill development per day. Participants also receive and keep a starter set of clubs and bag, a golf shirt, a golf hat, golf balls, tees and other supplies. The final hook is a free round of golf for the kids at Birch Ridge each Thursday morning for the rest of the summer.

Tuesday, McCamon was happy to report she was already hitting the ball 150 yards.

"I think by the end of this, I'll be able to hit it farther than my dad," McCamon said.

It's exactly that kind of enthusiasm Tom Walsh, the head golf professional at Birch Ridge, was looking to produce when he came across the Hook A Kid On Golf program two years ago.

Birch Ridge already has a highly successful junior program. The program is in its seventh year and, under the direction of Walsh, has produced State Amateur champion golfers and golfers with full or partial college scholarships.

Walsh said the junior program costs participants money, though, and mostly includes sons and daughters of those already in the golfing community. Hook A Kid On Golf caught Walsh's eye because participation is free and the program seeks out those who otherwise would probably not play golf.

The Birch Ridge Golf Association, whose primary purpose is the promotion of youth golf, agreed to pay $100 per participant, plus provide the free rounds of golf for the rest of the summer. Hook A Kid On Golf, which is administered by the National Alliance for Youth Sports, provided a matching grant. Central Area Rural Transit System provided rides for participants who needed them.

Bob Sizemore, a member of BRGA, heard about Hook A Kid On Golf from Walsh and agreed to coordinate the program. Sizemore got Jane Stein, a BRGA member as well as a volunteer at the After the Bell program, Soldotna Elementary School and Village Fair, to get a pool of 47 applicants together.

Since the Hook A Kid On Golf program dictates that there must be eight participants per instructor, a lottery was held to winnow the field. Nine boys and seven girls were chosen. In addition to Walsh, Matt Matarrese, a former member of the Birch Ridge junior program and now a college golfer, is providing instruction.

Sizemore, who has been checking in participants each morning, said the kids have enjoyed the program thus far.

"On Monday morning, they got their clubs for the first time," Sizemore said. "They showed up early the next day wanting to get at those clubs."

In addition to learning to swing, putt and chip, Walsh said the participants are learning drug awareness from a Soldotna police officer, methods of course maintenance and rules and etiquette. Friday, the participants played in a tournament with some BRGA members, then picked up awards at a barbecue.

"It's awesome," Walsh said. "These kids have a lot more energy than I do."

Mason Galbraith, 10, is enjoying the program because now he will be able to play golf with his uncle in Anchorage.

"It's like baseball. You try and hit the ball hard," said Galbraith, who was already hitting the ball 103 yards on Tuesday. "The difference is you bring your hands up higher and go down to hit the ball on the ground."

Bailey Holt, 8, was already hitting his driver 104 yards on Tuesday. He also is excited about playing with his uncle.

"I just hold on to the grip real tight," Holt said. "This is fun for everybody."

Sizemore, who also is a member of the Kenai Golf Association, said he is coordinating a Hook A Kid On Golf Tee Level Clinic at the Kenai Golf Course in July. Walsh said with the success of this week's program, he will definitely consider doing a Tee Level Clinic again, or even getting into some of Hook A Kid On Golf's other programs.

"I just think it's fun to do this for kids who may or may not have had a chance to play golf," Sizemore said.

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