For the Love of Junior Golfers

By: JJ Gowland


At my course on July 1st – the birthday of Canada – we celebrated our nation’s holiday with a shotgun tournament that was also a fundraiser for our junior program. What an interesting day it was.

The format was a “two net best ball” of a foursome. For any threesomes in the field, the official scorekeepers chose a fourth player, called a ‘rover,’ to fill out our group’s net scores. My threesome didn’t know until all the cards were in the clubhouse who would be our ‘rover.’ Since the day was devoted to our juniors, it was fitting that a junior was selected as our rover. At the end of our game we learned that 14-year-old Robbie was our fourth.

Robbie has been associated with golf since before he was born. His grandfather was president of our privately-owned club for years, and his mother worked at the club and progressed through the ranks to become our general manager. You might say Robbie was weaned on turfgrass.

Long-time members have watched him sprout up from a toddler to a not-very-tall but fairly talented young athlete. Robbie is an avid golfer who also plays hockey, volleyball, and soccer, but he’s most passionate about basketball. I’ve played golf with him before, and if he becomes as avid about playing golf as he is about basketball his potential is great. School in Ontario didn’t end until June 29th, so he hasn’t played much golf this year – yet.

In the junior fundraising tournament Robbie played with a threesome that included possibly the two oldest golfers on our roster. The two senior swingers decided early not to submit scores for prizes; they just wanted to watch Robbie’s game. Without knowing he would be selected as a rover, Robbie relaxed and enjoyed the game. Boy, did he enjoy it.

My threesome’s handicaps were all over the lot. Derek is a 7; his wife, Adrian, is a 40; and me, I’m currently a 22 (but getting lower). Adrian, a fairly new player, may not hit a long drive or an accurate chip but she can putt. I played one of my better games of the year, but Derek felt he was not up to snuff. Adrian did well on the holes where she received three strokes, I made a couple of sand saves, Derek saved our bacon on the par-4s, but to finalize our card we needed Robbie’s score. He’s a 12 handicapper.

Before we received Robbie’s card we’d already heard about Janice, a fairly new golfer who shot the game of her life. Janice typically scores in the mid- to high-90s, but she shot an 86. I’ve played golf with Janice so I wasn’t completely surprised she went that low. She beamed like a lighthouse after the round.

Derek, Adrian and I figured Janice would star on the winning team.

After hearing that Robbie was our rover, Derek read off his net scores. After totaling our two best net scores from the four of us, we were astounded. The leaders at that point were around 121. Derek and I double-checked the numbers, re-added the totals vertically and horizontally, and wrote down 111.Our two net best-ball score easily held up thanks to Robbie, who finished with a 1-over gross score of 72.

Robbie, who started in the junior program at the ripe old age of 11, was thrilled with the win. “This 72 was the best round in my life!” he exclaimed.

Robbie’s smile lit up the clubhouse-patio scene. I’m not sure whose grin was bigger: Janice’s or Robbie’s.

As the author of “Confessions of a Sandbagger,” I was a little uncomfortable about being on the winning team. Robbie couldn’t stay for the prize presentations, so Derek asked one of Robbie’s junior golfing pals to pick out a prize for him. Ironically, he selected “Confessions of a Sandbagger.”

I highly recommend taking your favorite young golfer to the course and teach the ‘junior’ the game you love. Here’s a game you can play with a “junior” that’s both fun and educational:

A newly married couple were recent golfing guests of mine. The husband, when he was hired at his new job, was told he needed to learn golf, so the couple took up the sport together. They play what they call “best ball,” but it’s really a modified two-person scramble.

Their game involves both of them teeing off, then selecting the best shot and each hitting from there and continuing the process until holing out. I think this is a great way to teach a junior golf, discuss the planning of a shot, executing it and challenging each other in the process.

On July 5th, I played golf with 17-year-old Sean, who sports a 0.6 handicap, and 13-year-old Brian, a 19 handicapper. Brian was the better putter and seemed totally surprised by his talent. Sean, who spends winters in Houston with a golf coach, shot a 3-under 69. Both of these young men are honest to the core and wonderful playing partners. (By the way, I played my second best game this year with these teens.)

There’s great joy in watching new golfers make a great shot and the subsequent look on their faces that would make any parent, friend, or coach beam with pride. Watching a youngster enjoy success is almost as much fun as it is to personally make a great shot.

This summer, make sure you play at least one round with a youngster. You’ll be rewarded.

Jill J. Gowland has a BA in psychology from McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario, and worked as a psychiatric clinician for five years. Following that she did a 10-year stint in sales and then worked as a marketing manager in the high-tech software and the security/access-control industries.

Before attending university, J.J. served tables in a golf course coffee shop and has been an avid golfer for more than three decades. Jill has been associated with the golf business as a director and shareholder of a privately owned golf course for more than 20 years. Jill studied comedy at Second City, Toronto, has written and directed stage plays, taught improv comedy, is a published poet. She has blogs on www.SandbaggersAnonymous.blogspot.com, has written for Ontario Golf Magazine, and is a golf novelist. Jill lives with a fluctuating handicap in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

Her latest book, “Confessions of a Sandbagger,” (ISBN 1-4137-5527-4), a trade paperback, was released in December 2004 and is available world-wide and directly from the author. For ordering information, visit www.publishedauthors.net/jjgowland. Also, see Bob Spiwak’s review of “Confessions of a Sandbagger” at http://www.cybergolf.com/bookreview/index.asp?newsID=3903.

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