They stand on each side of the green, taking turns putting a large, yellow ball to a target about 10 feet away. Hayley, tall and blond, stands on the right, wearing a bright orange hat and a light blue skirt, matching the color of her eyes. Mallory, with dark hair and a playful smile that's missing two front baby teeth, stands on the left, giggling and leaning on her putter.
Both love golf and want to become better at it, which is why they joined 20 other girls at Chartwell Country Club in this putting exercise that is part of the LPGA's Girls Golf Club of Baltimore, which holds sessions once a month until October.
Hayley is 12 years old, Mallory 6. Hayley has been playing golf for two years; Mallory had picked up a club only a few times before joining the program. Hayley is competitive, as competitive as a 12-year-old can be, her father says; Mallory likes to play with her dog more than she likes to play golf.
But both were attracted to the LPGA program.
"Look at them out there," says Gene Milbourn, Hayley's dad, as he watches Hayley putt her ball to within a foot of the target. "This is what the program is all about. All these girls out here, meeting each other, having a good time. This is special."
Focused on golf
It's a Friday, and Hayley Milbourn is hitting balls on the driving range at the Baltimore Country Club. She focuses on the ball and her swing. Everything else fades away.
She has a routine: She sets up her aim, approaches the ball, settles her weight between the right foot and the left, takes a practice swing, remembering what her father always tells her (keep the elbow in, the backswing slow and the hands loose), readjusts and lets it fly. More often than not, the ball goes far and straight.
On this day, she belts many shots past 200 yards, drawing stares from the old men on the practice tees behind her.
"I like it when people look at me," Hayley says, shuffling through her purple golf bag filled with Calloway clubs. "I always do better when I get to show off."
Hayley's week has been filled with golf, which was rare until this year.
"I used to hate golf," she says. "But I realized that if I worked at it, I could be pretty good at it. Now, I love it, and who knows what could happen? I know now that I want to play in college, and I really want to try to make the LPGA Tour. I want to be the best I can."
A lot can change in a year. Her last score after nine holes? 44.
Hayley said she wanted to participate in the Girls Golf Club program to meet other girls like her, other girls who just like to play. And statistics show Hayley may have many playmates.
According to the National Golf Foundation, women's participation in golf jumped 24 percent in the last decade - 5.1 million American females played the sport in 1999.
"The idea behind the Girls Golf Club is to keep encouraging girls to find the sport," said Libby Pancake, area director for the LPGA. "For a long time, girls would start, then quit golf because they didn't understand the game or because they didn't have anyone to teach them. If we can keep introducing and teaching the game to interested young girls, the sport will continue to grow."
There is a link between the start of the sport's growth and the beginning of the Girls Golf Club.
Sandy LaBouve, a golfer from Scottsdale, Ariz., started the program in 1989 and ran it on her own for four years. The LPGA bought the rights in 1993, and started programs in 10 cities, expanding each year. Now, the Girls Golf Club is flourishing in 70 cities in the United States, Canada and Australia.
That is how the game is brought to girls like Hayley.
"I always have to end on a good shot," Hayley says, coming to the end of her practice.
After her next drive - a high, long blast past the 200-yard marker - she looks over her shoulder just to make sure the old men behind her have noticed. Some nod in approval.
And practice is over.
Interest in the game
Mallory Manley sits on a chair, but she keeps sliding off onto the living room floor, laughing. It's three days before the Girls Golf Club program has another session, when she'll get to play with the fun Velcro balls again. For now, she's content to play with her dog, a brown labrador/rottweiler mix named Zoe.
Giles Manley, Mallory's dad, plays the game a lot, and likes to bring all three of his daughters - Sara, 10, Cassidy, 9, and Mallory - with him to the course. That's why he enrolled all three in the Girls Golf Club.
"Yeah, I guess I'm excited about the girls being involved in the program," Giles says. "My dream is that one day, me, my wife and all the kids can go out and play on the course together. I've noticed that they're becoming more interested in the game, and the more interested they become, the more we'll go out on the course."
Sessions for the Girls Golf Club, which is open to any girl under 17, take place once a month at different area courses. The girls receive individual instruction and get a chance to play nine holes. A $20 membership fee covers the cost.
Mallory says she especially liked a drill the girls worked on during the first session, held June 12 at Green Spring Valley Hunt Club. Paddle balls were passed out, and girls were encouraged to see how many consecutive times they could hit the ball with the paddle.
"I only hit the ball about two times or maybe one time," Mallory says. "It was hard."
Pancake said the drill improves the vital skill of hand-eye coordination.
Hayley and Mallory don't really know each other yet, but maybe they will soon. And Hayley knows just what she'll say.
"My advice is to just have fun," Hayley says. "I didn't start playing when I was 6; I started when I was 10. You just need to have fun while you can, because it gets competitive. But, for me, it became more fun when I could compete, because I'm totally competitive, and I'm beginning to learn more about the game. Some people may not like it, but I do, because I want to be the best."
For information on the LPGA Girls Golf Club, call 410-409-5866.