Golf Peoria’s Youth Movement – youth golf programs

William P. Woolard

Over the past few years, the world of junior golf has made its impression upon nearly everyone in the golf industry. Young people have been coming to the game more enthusiastically than ever, and many organizations have begun to take notice. In Peoria, Ill., the Peoria Park District has always placed great emphasis on developing a variety of junior programs for young golfers ages 3 to 17.

The park district strove to develop a multidimensional golf program to fit a community in which 57 percent of the children in the public-school system live below the poverty level; where two years ago a free bus-pass system, known as the Sun-Fun program, was introduced; where youthful enthusiasm may be captured; and where socioeconomically disadvantaged participants may be introduced to a new game.

Golf is a wholesome lifetime activity that directly benefits the young people of any community. When people are introduced to the game at a young age, they will generally return to the sport as adults, whether or not they continued to play throughout their formative years.

Getting Your Head in the Game

Six years ago, Peoria’s Golf Master Plan identified the need for an enhanced golf learning experience, which prompted immediate investigation of existing facilities and budget planning. As planning developed and time passed, several areas that needed to be addressed were identified. The present range and teaching facilities in Peoria had been outgrown. As was the case with most of the rest of the world, the interest in golf had skyrocketed in this north-west-central Illinois community. And finally, junior programming was growing by leaps and bounds. Many of Peoria’s junior programs were filled to capacity, and the lack of available time at the existing five golf courses was limiting potential growth.

With these challenges in mind, the Peoria Park District set out to increase the skill level and diversity of its customers and to encourage play from new target groups, which included youth, minorities, those with physical disabilities, and the financially disadvantaged. The community’s diverse socioeconomic profile presented an opportunity to introduce golf to these new target audiences and to provide programs to children who face both physical and financial challenges.

The Peoria staff contacted Carl Donner, program administrator for the United States Golf Association Foundation. Donner encouraged them to apply for a grant to assist with the development of their academy, which is dedicated to increasing diversity and programming for the community’s socioeconomically disadvantaged youth.

Together, the Peoria Park District and the USGA could build an outstanding and unique facility that would introduce a new dimension of golf learning to the region. The new facility would also serve as a demonstration site for other communities facing similar challenges. Because Peoria is a crossroads of cultural and economic diversity, it serves as an ideal testing ground. Always a good demonstration base for innovative programs, the multidimensional community inspired the phrase, “Will it play in Peoria?”

The park district was awarded a 8100,000 grant for its youth golf programs and project. Representatives from the USGA were extremely helpful throughout the grant process, which reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to the growth, preservation, and protection of the game of golf. Peoria Park District junior programs such as Hook A Kid on Golf, First Swing, Detweiller Drivers children’s golf club, and lessons, now offered at remote sites, will be implemented at the soon-to-be-completed Golf Peoria Learning Center and Academy. The center will allow for the expansion of these existing programs as well as encourage new program development and enhancement of programs offered at the other five golf course facilities.

Upon its completion, the Golf Peoria Learning Center and Academy will include all-weather indoor and outdoor playing facilities, a large outdoor putting green, practice sand bunkers, a nine-hole pitch and putt course, and much more. A separate area has been constructed on the driving range to permit lessons and general range play. The driving range itself will consist of re-created hole layouts, which will allow players to actually place shots, instead of having to imagine a dogleg. The pitch and putt course will be ideal for junior play, with movable tees and no holes longer than 100 yards. Overall, the academy should be one of the most innovative and exciting facilities in the area, and the junior programming should benefit greatly from its construction.

Peoria Juniors

The Peoria Park District offers a number of different junior programs designed to introduce youth to all phases of the game of golf. Many of the programs have been in place for more than 20 years, while others, introduced only recently, are proving very successful. A number of the program offerings have inspired offshoots, and the district continues to expand by creating new programs based on public suggestions and needs. Descriptions of some of the more successful programs follow.

Hook a Kid on Golf

The Peoria Park District has offered the Hook a Kid on Golf program for five years. The participating youngsters come from the Peoria Housing Authority’s low-income housing complex, the Peoria Progressive Golf Club, and the Peoria Park District’s Martin Luther King day camps. The children receive, at no cost to them, Taylor Made golf clubs and bag, balls, shirts, visors, and an instructional video to keep and use in the future. They take four two-hour lessons from park district PGA professionals and volunteers, and finish the program with a tournament at nine-hole Detweiller Golf Course.

HAKOG covers all aspects of the sport, from rules and etiquette to course maintenance, and touches upon drug awareness and prevention. In addition to volunteers, the Peoria Park District donates the time and staff for the instructional sessions. In five years, the program has reached nearly 150 children.

Detweiller Golf Course hosted the regional Hook A Kid on Golf skills challenge in 1995, which allowed children to compete against other local junior golfers in individual golf skill contests including short and long putting, chipping, and driving. Peoria winners advanced to the statewide competition in Chicago and did extremely well. A competing Peoria player was even featured on the cover of Chicago District Golfer magazine.

The staff of the Peoria Park District hopes that their program will develop in children the desire and dedication it takes to become great players. And offering this program at the Golf Peoria Learning Center and Academy will enable staff to increase diversity as well as reach out to more socioeconomically disadvantaged participants. The center has already been recognized as a Hook A Kid on Golf model facility by the National Association for Youth Sports.

Mentoring Program and Parent Involvement Program

As an extension of the HAKOG program, a volunteer has instituted a mentoring program at Proctor Center, an inner-city recreation facility operated by the Peoria Park District. Children are invited and encouraged to practice here free of charge.

The first year of the program, which was created in December 1997, drew 12 children. Six children attended the sessions regularly from December to April, and two are continuing to work to further their golf skills. Youth from this program are encouraged to join other Peoria Park District offerings such as the tournament series or the Detweiller Drivers club.

The Parent Involvement program will follow this year’s HAKOG season, and is designed to encourage participants to involve a parent, guardian, or family member in the game with them. The Peoria Park District will offer a series of free lessons to each HAKOG participant and his or her adult companion. Upon completion of the lessons, district staff will conduct a teaching seminar to encourage adult involvement and continued interest among the children.

First Swing

The Peoria Park District and Peoria Public School District 150 have teamed up to introduce the game of golf to fifth- through eighth-graders through physical education classes. The main objective of the program is to spark the interest of the students and inspire them to continue with the game. Peoria’s local program started in 1997, after the PGA stepped up to supply First Swing materials. The program has currently expanded to include three public schools.

Park district staff train physical education instructors on the basics of teaching golf to children. After this preliminary training is completed, the teachers take over the program, and park district personnel are able to move on to developing the next school’s program.

The goals of the cooperative program are to introduce golf as a game:

–That can be played by all ages.

–That the entire family can enjoy, regardless of individual skill.

–That could greatly benefit participants, financially and socially, in all aspects of life (high school, college, and the business world).

Detweiller Drivers

In 1996, at the request of the community, the Peoria Park District initiated the Detweiller Drivers children’s golf club for kids ages 3 to 11. Working for increased family involvement, the program’s aim is to guarantee that a parent, guardian, or other responsible family member will accompany children on the golf course at all times. It is not uncommon to see parents, siblings, and grandparents on the course each week.

This league is one of the most successful programs offered by the Peoria Park District, which plans to expand time availability when the program is relocated from the nine-hole Detweiller Golf Course facility to the Golf Peoria Learning Center and Academy’s pitch and putt course. Offered to 100 children in its inaugural season, the program expanded to reach 200 children in 1998.

The program opens with an orientation, continues with four weeks of golf, and culminates in a Saturday tournament. Each week, children ages 3 to 5 play three holes, children ages 6 to 8 play five holes, and children ages 9 to 11 play a full nine-hole round. Many have gone on to play in the district’s tournaments, and most are repeat participants year after year.

Junior Open Tournament Series

For 21 years, the Peoria Park District’s Junior Open Tournament Series has enjoyed great success. It is designed to encourage youth to learn about tournament play, experience tournament competition, and develop integrity and a sense of fair play in a tournament-related atmosphere. Participants pay just 87 to enter each of the tournaments, which are held in June and July. Played at various district courses, each event has attracted at least 170 players over the past 10 years, and the 1998 season boasted 297 different players from 52 cities.

To ensure fair competition, boys and girls ages 12 to 17 are divided into age groups. Players are assigned to different foursomes for each stroke-play tournament so they can get used to and learn from players with many different styles. At the end of the season, those players who finish with the highest point totals are named players of the year. Many series players have gone on to enjoy success in the world of golf, and one district PGA professional was a product of the tournament series. Peoria’s Junior Open Tournament Series is one of the most exciting and extensive tournament series in the area, and it continues to improve each year.

Other Junior Tournaments

Every summer, the Peoria Park District offers a number of tournaments with different formats to encourage youth involvement in the game. These tournaments are designed not only to expose children to the game of golf but also to encourage family involvement in the game. The district generates sponsorships for many of the tournaments to provide the best events possible at the lowest cost.

The Lil’ Guys and Gals Tournament, now in its 35th year, is offered to children ages 11 and under. It is not uncommon to see children as young as 2 years old participating. A local newspaper’s sponsorship allows children to enter for free, and all players are recognized with a ribbon at the end of the tournament. Children are divided into age groups and play as many holes as is appropriate. This two-day event features a lot of family fun, as it requires the accompaniment of a parent or family member who will help count strokes and keep the kids on task. This event is a definite favorite among the players, fans, and media.

The “It’s Relative!” tournament has also been popular with families for many years. The tournament’s objective is to provide a fun atmosphere where parents and grandparents can compete with their children and grandchildren. For a long time the event took place on Father’s Day, encouraging dads to spend a day on the links with their kids. But in 1998, because of public demand, the format was changed to include mothers and grandparents, and the tournament became more successful. Teams of two compete based on the Peoria handicap system, which is designed to give all of the teams a chance to win a trophy and prizes. A sponsor covers the cost of the trophies and lunch for each player, which keeps many families returning to this tournament year after year.

The Tri-County Junior Boys Tournament, a match-play format, is offered free of charge to boys ages 12 to 17. Players qualify with an 18-hole round, then are divided into flights of 16. The participants play for the remainder of the week, as long as they continue to win. The flight championship matches at the end of the week usually draw a large crowd of spectators.

Specialized Golf Lessons

In 1994 the Peoria Park District, in conjunction with the Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association, implemented a program of golf lessons for those with mental and physical disabilities. Run entirely by volunteers and supported by district PGA professionals and a local organization, the program can reach 20 to 25 athletes each summer.

The Special Olympic Golf Program also began in 1994 and has since grown into a 16-week golf league. The program has even produced the Illinois golf coach — a volunteer — of the 1999 Special Olympics World Games in North Carolina. The state of Illinois has been asked to send two golfers to the competition.

In Peoria, the golf program never ends, and the Peoria Park District staff know that youth development is the future of the game. It is their belief that the new Golf Peoria Learning Center and Academy, and all of the existing facilities, will bring families together and provide opportunities never before available in the Peoria area. Through youth lessons, tournaments, mentoring programs, and more, the Peoria Park District continues to learn from its experiences — and from the smiles of the kids it touches.

Junior golf programs have grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years, and for the Peoria (Ill.) Park District, this has translated into an increased opportunity to introduce more area youngsters to the game. Hook a Kid on Golf. First Swing. Detweiller Drivers. These are but a few of the program offerings coming out of the district’s extensive youth golf program. And, say the district’s William P. Woolard, superintendent of golf, and Meridith L. Zucco, coordinator of marketing and golf, with its new Golf Peoria Learning Center and Academy, which is set to open later this year, Peoria is poised to preach the benefits of this lifetime sport to a new generation (p. 64).

COPYRIGHT 1999 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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