Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

Editors Column

Hate to say it but a lot of people talk about doing something for junior golf but only a few key people really do it. First, let me say I'm not referring to prep or competitive-oriented "junior golf" here. For sure, high school golf, particularly for girls, has allowed thousands of new players to be introduced to the game. High school coaches, led by Michigan's well-organized Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association, are doing a whale of a job, season-in, season-out. If you own a public golf course, your bumper sticker might read: "Hug a Golf Coach today." Prep golf, through dedicated, earnest coaches, are building the game. And for the most part, competitive junior golf in the state is doing fine. Rollie Frisinger's Powerbilt PGA Junior Tour is a terrific outlet for kids and should be applauded. Ditto for work of the Independent Insurance Agent Junior Classic which attracts thousands of young players to its qualifying tournaments around the state. Likewise, the GAM and the PGA Section are doing good things on the competitive side with its junior calendar of events.

But what I'd like to see flourish even more are local, community-centered junior programs that mix the elements of instruction, education, competition and fun for all ages but particularly pre-teen. The leader in this regard is the nationally-recognized Flint Junior Golf Program. Supported by Buick and the Flint Journal over the years, Flint Junior Golf is a textbook case of how to build an effective junior program. You want to know how to get kids involved in golf in your city or town? Just make a pilgrimage to Flint. As the economists might opine, Flint has the "macro" model down pat. On a smaller yet equally impressive scale, you might want to visit Battle Creek where Cedar Creek's Director of Golf Ron Osborne is doing wonderful things for the junior golf.

In the last several years, Osborne -- who's also the chairman of the Michigan PGA's Junior Golf Committee -- has seen his junior program grow from 35 kids to over 150. His program runs from mid-June to July 30 and it's divided into age and ability groupings. "We try to keep the instruction short and to-the-point while making it fun," said Osborne when asked about the essentials of the program. Instructional sessions focus on four elements: 1.) Set-up and address; 2.) Full swing; 3.) Irons and woods; and 4.) Chipping and putting.

A Battle Creek native, the 37-year-old Osborne is quick to deflect any praise for his work by mentioning the support of others. "Cris and Kriste Vocke (the owners of Cedar Creek) are great believers in junior golf and have been very supportive. And pros Paul Symonds and Paul Hawkins as well as superintendent Tim Hesselink all make it a group effort here," said Osborne. But in his self-effacing, friendly manner, Osborne also made sure to cite one of his "mentors," Jim Roschek of Milham Park GC. "Jim has been a major influence in my career. He's been a leader in Kalamazoo for junior golf for years and I've been fortunate to learn so much from him."

The Vockes and Osborne hope to take junior golf to the next level later this summer when their new Cedar Farms GC opens. A shorter, 'executive-style layout, Cedar Farms will provide Osborne a perfect venue for instructing juniors and beginners alike. There'll be four tees with the most forward one reserved for juniors and novices. As the young or new player's game improves, then he or she will "graduate" to the next tee box which will be color-coded. But to progress to the next level, one must also pass an increasingly more difficult rules and etiquette exam. "It's a system that will make the kids feel like they have something to shoot for," wrote Osborne in his recent newsletter (another good idea.)

You know why good junior golf programs such as Cedar Farms are in such short supply? Simply stated, it's hard work to attract, teach and motivate 150 kids to learn the game in the right way. Years ago, caddie programs served as the "incubators" for teaching youngsters the gist of the game. But with caddie programs barely hanging on, a new model is necessary. And not all of it will come from Tiger Woods' First Tee endeavors. In this regard, the Vockes and Osborne are ahead of the learning curve.

Come to think of it, that new executive course is aptly named. What better place to 'grow the game' than down at the farm.

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