Links connect the generations

Fathers and sons forge lasting bonds on the golf course

June 15, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Like many fathers, Robert Wilson wanted to find the best venue for teaching his son Brandon how to be the best man he could grow up to be.

One day while playing with his son, the answer came to him.

"Brandon was only 20 months old when he swung a golf club for the first time," said Wilson, 47. "But he hit the ball. By the time he was 30 months old, Brandon went to the driving range and hit the ball in the air every time. I thought maybe there was something to this."

With Wilson's passion for golf, and Brandon's talent, a golf course seemed the natural place where Robert Wilson could teach the youngster not only golf, but life's lessons.

"Golf creates a lifelong connection between children and their parents," said Jim Hackford, a golf professional at Wetlands Golf Course in Aberdeen. "Children come out and golf with their parents when they're 10 and when they're 40. The busiest day of the year at our course is Father's Day. It's a place where people come with their dad or grandfather and connect. "

Children learn more than just golf mechanics on the golf course, Hackford said. They learn how to deal with individual challenges and how to respect the environment, he said.

One father brings his child to the Wetlands Golf Course, and he teaches him through self-discovery, Hackford said.

"There is one dad who brings his young child out here and he sets him up to discover how to play the game," he said. "He asks his son how he can hit the ball, and after he hits the ball, he asks him what he has to do to hit the ball better."

Wilson said he has been teaching Brandon, now 7, how to be dedicated, work hard and give back to his community. The youngster recently raised $2,500 for a friend with cancer, Wilson said.

"Brandon knows it's cool to win, but he also knows he has to give back," said Wilson, who is an ESPN golf radio-show host in Baltimore. "I am teaching him that it's not just about how you hit the ball. There's a lot more to the game."

Wilson of Perry Hall said he is also teaching his son that he can work hard and have fun at the same time.

"Brandon makes friends whenever we go on tour," said Wilson of the youngster who can play par golf at Mountain Branch Golf Course in Joppa, and was the U.S. Kids Tour Player of the Year last year. "He knows people all over the country that we stay in touch with. I make sure when his practice or a golf tour is done that he had fun."

Brandon enjoys time with his father on the golf course, especially the putting and chipping contests, he said.

"When I have contests with my dad, I win Pokemon cards," he said. "He teaches me lots of stuff when we play golf. He teaches me how to be nice to people. He showed me how to shake hands and say good job and good hit."

The Wilsons aren't alone. Despite reports from area golf courses that overall business is declining due to the economy, fathers continue to turn to golf to connect with their children.

Matthew Dietrich started playing golf with his father, Joe Dietrich, when he was 5 years old. He likes playing golf with his father because he beats him, he said.

"My dad is my favorite person to golf with because I beat him every time we play," he said.

But he said he has learned his share of lessons from his father.

"My dad taught me not to get angry when I hit the ball badly, or have a bad round," said Matthew, 13, of Bel Air. "He has taught me to stay focused and calm. I find myself doing the same thing in school or at home. It helps me to do better in everything I do."

Matthew has taught his father some lessons as well.

"Matt always beats me when we play golf. He hits an 80, and I hit 180," said Dietrich, 48, who plays with his son at Geneva Farms Golf Course in Street, and at the Wetlands Golf Course. "He'll be on the green, and I will be in the bushes somewhere, and I'll get mad. But if I have an attitude about it, he tells me he won't play with me, he'll walk away."

Regardless of the humbling experience of being beaten by a 13-year-old, Dietrich enjoys playing golf with his son, he said.

"Playing golf with my son has brought us closer together," said Dietrich, who works as an engineer. "We talk when we play golf, and in other circumstances maybe we wouldn't. We learn from each other all the time."

Robert Anzelc and his son, Jared, have a similar golfing experience. During their golf outings, Jared has learned about everything from golf etiquette to girls, he said.

"My dad told me one day that golf is a lot like girls," said Anzelc, 15, of Fallston. "You can hit a great shot, but they may not amount to anything if you don't hit a good shot after the great shot."

Robert Anzelc saw golfing as a chance to spend time with Jared, his only son, the youngest of three children. He wanted Jared to learn to play golf because there are a number of things about golf that are applicable to life, such as etiquette and problem solving, said Anzelc, 58, who works as the executive director of the Teacher's Association of Baltimore County.

"When he learned golf course etiquette, he learned how to treat people off the course as well," said Anzelc of Fallston, who has been golfing for about 40 years. "Whenever he repairs a divot, he is learning to fix problems that he created. He is leaving the green in good shape for the foursome behind him."

He said he also taught Jared the mechanics of golf, which have helped him with his problem solving abilities.

"When you play golf, you have to figure out what your goal is, and how you can best achieve your goal," he said. "Then you talk yourself through the steps to achieve your goal."

But when the last putt is made, and the score is tallied, the biggest lesson is learning the value of an afternoon spent learning life's lessons with dad.

"The bonding between Jared and I on the golf course is irreplaceable," Anzelc said. "There is nothing more important than that."

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