Sometimes I get a little jealous.
It's not other women I'm jealous of - this time, it's little girls. Little girls in my neighboring town of Winston-Salem, N.C., to be specific.
Why? Because they have something I don't have - an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Club. Starting next month, aspiring young golfers in Winston-Salem will have a club of their own, a club designed to give 7- to 17-year-old girls the chance to learn, golf and compete with their peers.
I have an 8-year-old daughter and other than the occasional lesson or trip to the driving range at our local golf course, she gets far too little exposure to the greatest game.
Club members in Winston-Salem get a free monthly clinic, discounted weekly golf lessons and two summer camps, plus the chance to compete in their own six-tournament players tour.
I live two hours away, and I'm seriously considering shipping my daughter to Winston-Salem so she can join up.
Sure, kids in my area can get golf lessons at local clubs, and even find spots in summer junior camps. But the LPGA-USGA club operates March through November. It means girls have a place to play and someone to play with eight months a year. It means cheap lessons (good for me) and lots of golf buddies (good for her).
A Girls Golf Club isn't just good for the girls; it's good for the community as well. "We hear from a lot of the site directors that the girls are going on and playing high school golf and college golf. They're using the Girls Golf program almost like a feeder," says Sherry Greene, the LPGA's program manager.
"A couple of these girls lived in areas where there wasn't a high school golf team, and they became the catalyst to start a golf team at their high school."
As of right now, almost 6,000 girls participate at more than 180 golf courses around the country. But I think there's room for a few more.
Starting a club requires two things: the cooperation and commitment of an area golf facility and the generosity of some local sponsors. To become an approved site, a golf club submits an application to the LPGA-USGA club headquarters.
"You need to put forth a vision of what you would do with the program and how it would be funded," says Mike Parker, program administrator for the Winston-Salem group.
The cost? Parker says operating the Winston-Salem club will run about $25,000 a year, most of which will be covered by sponsor organizations and individual donors. But clubs have the option of picking and choosing which services to provide. For example, not all chapters will field the expensive six-tournament golf tour Winston Salem plans to offer.
Golf courses approved as club sites won't be left to fend for themselves. They can expect support from the LPGA and apply for matching grants from the USGA.
"Basically, we support them in every way possible," Greene says.
"We provide resource materials, an operations manual with ideas on how to set up the club, posters to advertise their program, a video that they can use to give parents a good feel for the program, a 30-second public-service announcement that they can give to their local TV stations, an instructions booklet, brochures and templates that have logos, brochures, applications, things like that."
The Winston-Salem chapter was started by Robert Linville, owner of the Precision Golf School in Greensboro, N.C., and the father of two golfing daughters. He wanted to give girls more opportunities to play.
But you don't have to own a golf school to start a club. According to Greene, just about anyone can start one.
"You have to have certain things in place - a golf facility, a teaching pro - but the club can be started by anyone with an interest," she says. "We've had moms and dads start it. The EWGA [Executive Women's Golf Association] is a huge supporter. A lot of First Tee programs have started a Girls Golf program within their chapters."
Does your area have an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Club? If not, maybe it's time to start one.
Universities should consider starting a program - the girls could get mentoring from golf-team members, who in turn learn something about community service. It's also a good idea for individual EWGA chapters - how many members have daughters they'd like to see in the game?
The key is for girls to have a place to go on a regular basis. As Greene points out, many youngsters might take a lesson or learn the game at a summer camp but have nowhere to go from there.
"Continuity of instruction is really important," she notes. "Golf is such a great game that girls can play with their family, and play it for the rest of their life."
Call LPGA headquarters at (386) 274-6200 for more information on starting a club.
February 19, 2007