Growing Up with Golf

Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, October 2007 •

I’m a firm believer that kids, especially teens, stand a better chance of staying out of trouble if they are active in sports, arts, music, volunteer work, or any organized extracurricular activity. My parents never failed to remind me that they also thought “idle minds were the devil’s workshop.” At the time, I probably didn’t think I was one of the lucky ones, but now I know that God smiled down on me when he gave me such strict parents.

Growing Up with Golf | FULL CIRCLEWhen I was in about the 10th grade, I picked up one of my dad’s golf clubs. I don’t remember how or why we decided that I would accompany him to the small public course where he occasionally played. The first time I just walked with him and watched him practice. He took me to the driving range a few times where he instructed me to follow through and keep my head down. My dad was the first to admit that he was a weekend hacker and that maybe I should take a few lessons if I wanted to get really serious about golf.

However, to me, it wasn’t about developing a fabulous golf swing. During those golf outings, I had my dad’s full attention. We talked about everything—boys, cars, college, even a young Nancy Lopez who was just a teenager herself and winning amateur tournaments out West. If I was a sulky teenager off the course, I overcame it very quickly during those Saturday outings. Even though my dad had a competitive streak, he could bring out the giggles very quickly. And I’ll never forget the look on his face when I chipped in a shot with a five iron. From then on, it was important to me to re-capture that look of pride whenever I could.

Getting teenagers into sports teaches them how to interact, socialize, mentally analyze problems, and get some exercise and fresh air, something that a lot of children today miss while sitting in front of televisions or playing video games. It also gives them a chance to talk and find a mentor.

Volunteers for Tri-County Junior Golf, Inc., hope to influence the lives of youngsters in Lake, Sumter, and Marion counties through the game of golf. The volunteers go into local schools to play golf with children who may not otherwise have such an opportunity. The program was introduced last year at North Sumter Intermediate School in Wildwood, where 21 sets of clubs were presented to students at the end of the school year. In July, 70 local children played in the organization’s junior golf tournament.

Tri-County Junior Golf and its organizer, Tony Simpson, will work this year with middle schools in Leesburg, Fruitland Park, Tavares, and Webster, to incorporate golf into P.E. classes, thanks to the Florida Sports Foundation Golf License Plate Grant. The organization is committed to getting children interested in golf as a lifelong sport. Even if these youngsters don’t become the next Tiger Woods or Michelle Wie, they will learn invaluable lessons that will stay with them as they grow up and become adults.

And the memories of sharing time with a grown-up on a golf course are, as the commercial says, priceless.

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