Golf lessons from pros fit youngsters to a tee

Teachers stress self-improvement, having fun


Sam Tepelides lined up his shot, took a couple of practice swings and then smacked the golf ball out into the open.

"That was better, Sam," PGA professional Bill Cullum said. "But you need to get the club head into the grass. We're grass killers."

A few minutes later, Cullum gave the 10-year-old Bel Air boy a resounding high-five and then moved on to his next pupil.

Sam was among more than 30 children who, despite the scorching heat, are participating in the Junior Golf Academy this week at Gunpowder Falls Golf Course in Kingsville. Throughout the summer, the pros at Baltimore County's public golf courses teach youngsters the basics of the sport.

The program started with one class for about 30 participants, and it has grown to more than 30 golfers in each of a dozen sessions.

The four-day program costs $100 and includes instruction, beverages, snacks, handouts, contest prizes, a cap and an awards ceremony. Sessions are scheduled for later this month at Gunpowder Falls, at Longview Golf Course and at the Diamond Ridge and The Woodlands golf courses.

The young golfers this week at Gunpowder Falls are receiving two hours of instruction on each of the first three days, followed by nine holes of golf on the final day.

Typically, participants learn to tee off on the 10th tee, but because of the heat they covered that and other portions of play upstairs in the air-conditioned clubhouse. However, while outside they learned the fundamentals of play, rules and golf etiquette, Cullum said.

And the lessons are plentiful, said Courtney Brett, 30, who became a PGA professional last week.

"The kids learn to create their own challenges," said Brett. "They learn to compete with themselves and push themselves to do better."

Cullum said playing golf builds character and self-confidence.

"I tell these kids that golf is the toughest game they will ever play," said Cullum. "They leave here knowing they may have missed shots, but it isn't a reflection of who they are. It's a game, and it's meant to be fun."

Yesterday, Cullum showed the children just how much fun they can have with golf.

Cullum started by dividing the children into two lines. Then he set a gray bin about 20 feet away and told the kids to throw or chip balls toward the bin.

Which was not as easy as it sounds, said Claire Gawryck.

Claire picked up her club and hit a ball that landed about 10 feet from the bin.

She said she picked up some skills this past week.

"I learned how to aim the ball and make it go lower or higher," the 12-year-old Perry Hall girl said.

Melanie Fassio, 11, of Phoenix participated in a game in which she had to hit the golf ball between two flags set up in the fairway.

Players learn that even though their swings might be off, they still have to keep the game moving. "We tell them that once they have hit the ball eight times on a hole that they need to pick it up and move on to the next hole," said Brett. "We also teach them no one likes to wait for slow players when they play a round of golf. So they have to keep up their pace of play."

But some players have the fundamentals down and attend the academy to perfect their play.

"I am here to learn to shoot irons," said Mark Mattern, 13, of Parkville. "And the people here are so good at teaching me that I already see improvement. I rate this golf program a 10."

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