Tiger-powered cool has kids teeing it up

Golfers: Due in part to Tiger Woods' popularity, more children have been taking to the greens and fairways lately to learn the ancient sport.

June 25, 2000|By Carol Sorgen | Carol Sorgen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Glenelg's Matt Greene first picked up a golf club when he was 10 years old, encouraged by his father, Brad. Now, seven years later, Matt has a 10 handicap and "almost a hole in one" to his credit, along with a lot of pleasant memories as he heads off to the University of Maryland, College Park in the fall.

"Golf is challenging, it makes you think, and it's relaxing and competitive, all at the same time," says Matt, who graduated last month from River Hill High School. "And it gives me the opportunity to show off."

He is not the only young person enjoying the game these days. The sport is booming among youngsters, say local golf pros. Professional Golfers Association star Tiger Woods, 24, already one of the game's brightest names ever, probably can add that to his list of accomplishments as well.

"It's the Tiger Woods phenomenon, without a doubt," says Joan Lovelace, LPGA golf professional at Fairways Hills Golf Club in Columbia.

Woods is not the only reason golf has turned "cool" in recent years to the younger set, though.

Influences

"There are a lot of new young players on the tour," says Gene Ward, veteran head pro at Hobbits Glen Golf Course in Columbia, "and increased media coverage of the players and the tour events have put golf more in the public eye than ever before."

From a parental standpoint, golf is a great game, says Craig Day, head PGA golf pro at Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center, which is host to Howard County high school golf events at no charge.

"It's difficult to get in trouble on a golf course," Day says. "There's no cursing, no drugs. ... That kind of behavior is unacceptable. And the environment around a golf course is safe. The kids are very seldom, if ever, out there on their own. They're always supervised."

More classes available

As interest in golf has soared among youngsters, so have classes and clinics. Through the Department of Recreation and Parks, for example, lessons are offered in the spring, summer and fall for kids ages 8-17 at Timbers of Troy, Fairway Hills, Waverly Woods and Hobbits Glen. The Columbia Association has youth programs through classes and camps at its Hobbits Glen and Fairway Hills courses, too.

County-backed summer camps, for "Tiger cubs" in grades three to eight, are conducted at Timbers of Troy and at nearby Diamond Ridge in Baltimore County.

"Classes fill quickly," says recreation and parks sports coordinator Mark Pendleton.

Timbers of Troy pro Kyle Warfield says that up to 300 kids go through the golf programs at that county-owned course.

"We've increased our camp sessions from three, to five, to six in the past few years," Warfield says.

Teaching young golfers calls for different techniques than teaching adults, says Fairway Hills' Joan Lovelace.

"The attention span of the kids is different," she says, "so you have to change the subjects often and keep them moving."

She adds that because kids have no inhibitions and are great imitators, they're easy to teach: "Just show them the motion, and they do it."

She says the best time for a youngster to learn golf is between the ages of 10 and 14.

Life lessons

Mike Mongelli, a physical education teacher at Hammond High School who sparked the county Recreation and Parks golf program, says that the younger someone picks up the game, the better off he will be - for years to come. "Golf is a lifetime sport," he says.

Lovelace, who learned golf as a child, says the game is not only enjoyable from a recreational standpoint, but it also offers valuable life lessons.

"Golf teaches you honor, respect and integrity," she says.

"When you learn the etiquette of golf, you learn how to conduct yourself on and off the course."

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