In addition to increasing costs for “decent” equipment, many kids aren’t introduced to the game unless their parents play. Muskogee (Okla.) Golf & Country Club is offering a PGA Junior League team for the first time this season, with a goal of developing interest at an early age.
The economics of golf are one the challenges of growing the game among youth, the Muskogee (Okla.) Phoenix reported.
James Platter recalls last golf season for Muskogee High School and his coaching duties that expanded into the job of equipment manager. The equipment was his own, the Phoenix reported.
“I had different boys playing with them, one with my driver, another with my putter, someone else with my wedges,” Platter said. “They’d have clubs, just not good quality clubs. One had a set where every club was a different brand. On top of all this, I had just two whose parents played golf.”
Typically, Platter’s enjoyed the advantage of a core of families from around Muskogee (Okla.) Golf & Country Club whose kids played golf regularly. Over time, that has supplied the school with top-level golf, including a 1998 state championship team. Last year was not one of those situations, the Phoenix reported.
“Next year, I have one whose parents play,” he said.
And if they don’t, chances are the kids have never played, and so it starts with finding clubs. Garage sale bargains aren’t the preferred target, the Phoenix reported.
“A decent set of irons is $800, a decent driver is $350 for one club. Then there’s balls to play with and a place to practice at $5.50 for each bucket of balls, you have to have some pretty deep pockets to do it,” Platter said. “Most parents go, ‘well, you know what, I can buy you a pair of tennis shoes and you can go run track or get you a tennis racket and you can play tennis.”
Two of Chad Kirkhart’s daughters, Katie and Kenzie, play high school golf, Katie having graduated this spring after one individual and three team state championships, with a college scholarship. You don’t gain that kind of success or college opportunities by just playing in the spring. There’s a summer full of junior golf tournaments, the Phoenix reported.
“You’ve got to bite the bullet. We had to buy new sets of clubs for both girls, $1,200 each. Summer golf you pay entry fees, some tournaments $45 and others $120 and that’s times two. I’m not counting hotels, food and gas, but it’s definitely in the thousands,” said Kirkhart, the Hilldale High School head football coach and assistant high school principal.
At one recent summer tournament he noticed something: “There weren’t many (area) girls.” At a recent Oklahoma South Central PGA tournament—the summer standard for competitive high school players—there was one boy from the area competing. Mark Budler, the club pro at Muskogee G&CC, hopes to change the landscape, the Phoenix reported.
On board since March, Budler has organized the club’s first PGA junior league team. On Sunday at his course, the group ages 6-13 went against Southlakes Golf Course’s club team out of Jenks. The scramble-format score was 8 1/2-3 1/2 in favor of the visitors, the Phoenix reported.
“Our team had 11, three were on vacation and a lot of our kids are 8 or 9 and most of theirs are 12,” Budler said. My vision is to start with the younger ones. If you have a solid group there, you’re always going to have a few high school golfers but at some point, you’re stuck with whatever’s left.
“If we get a strong group between 8-12, get them really involved, get them on-course instruction and such, when they get to high school they’ll be pretty equipped.”
Those players must be club members. Budler is offering junior golf camps for members and non-members, and the next one is July 26-29, the Phoenix reported.
Three of his club team plays junior golf already. “A third has played a lot, a third is just starting out, and others are in the middle,” he said.
One player defies the standard concept of kids whose parents play. Van Elgin, 10, a fourth-grader at Tony Goetz, happened on a golf camp at the club and fell in love with it, the Phoenix reported.
Budler understands with the changing demographics in the community and even around the club, he has to recruit as does the club for memberships, the Phoenix reported.
“I did this at Duncan where I was the last three years as pro,” Budler said. “We built it from nothing, wound up with two teams and had tons of success. Telling the parents what it was about, then it was easy for the kid. It’s a scramble format, it’s easy for the brand new kids. You pair them up accordingly where if they miss the ball, the other player will hit it where they can play it.”
Budler’s goal is to have two teams. “Next year I’m pretty confident we’ll have two and about 25 kids involved,” he said. That would prepare help for coaches like Platter, the Phoenix reported.
“I think we’ll next have another really good cluster of kids who are now in the seventh grade. It’s really hit and miss and the (club) has seen it with the juniors,” he said. “I’ve only had two African-American kids play. It’s a challenge to put a team together. In general, how are we going to grow the program if not for the country club or kids whose parents play?
“Unless we get people in the community to make some type of commitment for those who can’t afford it, that’s the only option we have. Mark will help out a ton with what he’s doing. But to me, it really comes down to the city has to bring in some kind of business or industry that can support $40,000- to $50,000-a-year jobs instead of $10 an hour.”