Some local sports have seen diminished numbers of youth involvement in recent years, but golf doesn’t appear to be one of them.
The 2018 junior golf program kicked off at Talbot Trail Golf Club earlier this month, where it was greeted by 93 students ranging from five to 16 years of age. Although most of the youths are boys and girls hailing from the Wheatley area, others are making the weekly trek from Leamington, Kingsville, Tilbury, Essex and a handful from Windsor. The program is being led by Samantha Williams with the assistance of volunteers who guide junior golfers through different stations that focus on the fundamentals of various aspects of the game including driving, chipping and putting.
Williams first took the helm of Talbot Trail’s junior golf sessions about 10 years ago. She is returning this year upon moving back to the area after living in St. Thomas for about three years. Like many Talbot Trail regulars and members, she was a junior golfer herself at the Wheatley facility.
The youths’ program has operated out of Talbot Trail for more than 30 years and has established itself as one of the premier series of its kind among local courses.
“A lot of places don’t have big junior programs. We’re one of the bigger players when it comes to it,” explained Talbot Trail golf pro Caleb Pratt.
Williams was a junior golfer at the Wheatley course when the system was being led by her mother Mavis Shanks, who is now one of the volunteers directing one of its stations. Presently, two of her own children are enrolled in the program, which runs an eight-week schedule. The first half of the junior season officially got underway July 4 and will continue with the mechanics, fundamentals and etiquette of the sport until July 25.
At that point, the instructional portion of the schedule will conclude with a scramble where students are not divided by age or experience categories. Williams noted that the opportunity will allow younger golfers to learn parts of the game firsthand from their elder junior counterparts. In the meantime, the youngest group — dubbed the “Little Rippers” — are learning golf through a series of games and activities relating to the sport.
“We want them to have fun instead of just sending them out there to tear up the course,” Williams explained. “We want this to be as fun for them as possible. The feedback has been predominantly positive, both from parents who want to see their kids learn the rules and from club members who like to see more time with the course open.”
The second half of the junior golf program will divide the group of nearly 100 students into divisions playing either three, five or nine-hole rounds starting Wednesday, Aug. 1. An age group of 13 and over will enroll in the nine-hole sessions while the remaining youths will be arranged as 10- to 12-year-olds and nine and under for the five- and three-hole categories. Volunteer station leaders will remain with the students for rules and to offer guidance.
Prizes will be awarded at the end of the eight sessions on Wednesday, Aug. 22, which will feature a club championship.