Like many sports, golf is dependant on volunteers to achieve a number of objectives, such as grow its youth ranks.
This month the North Sound Golf Club, in conjunction with the Cayman Islands Golf Association, staged a junior golf programme. Over 90 youngsters in the 15 and under age bracket learned basics about the sport such as putting and chipping.
Many of the volunteers, like Adam Nashed and Wally Clark, are novice golfers who have a desire to see kids excel.
“I love the game and I really enjoy helping kids learn to play the game,” Nashed said.
“Watching the kids get excited about the game reminds me why I love it so much. I started playing when I was about 16 and started taking golf seriously when I was 20. So in golf terms I started really late.
“I think the junior programmes give the kids a great opportunity to experience golf at an early age. At this young of an age I take the approach that I am simply showing the kids the game and introducing them to how the game is played. I think this approach takes all the pressure off the kids, because it eliminates the idea of a win or loss or a good/bad score.
“I think some kids quit certain sports because they get mad when they are not as good at it as others or they lose the game. The format of our clinic has no concepts of winning and losing or good and bad scores.
“I became a volunteer with junior golf 14 years ago, because I don’t have kids of my own and really enjoy seeing kids have fun and progress in a positive way,” Clark said. “I learned golf on my own, my mum and dad used to drop me off at an executive course in California for the day with my buddies and we would play all day.
“Mostly I think the younger kids learn to have fun and I have noticed that some of them really enjoy being with their friends, when they do that they tend to learn the game and the edict.
“My hopes for the kids are that they move up to the advanced part of junior golf and some day make the association team. I don’t see enough of the older kids move up like the ones from the past and there are several kids talented enough to move on. If not I hope the kids learn to respect the game, and when they do that, they are on their way to being better people.”
Both Nashed and Clark would work under the direction of North Sound Director of Golf Jason Deerwester and assistant pro Robert Chilman. A number of established golfers took part in the programme such as association president Joel Dodson and top ladies Emily Ribbins and Samantha Widmer. Ribbins, 16, is arguably Cayman’s top junior female player. She was part of the Cayman women’s team, along with Widmer, that competed at the 2011 Caribbean Amateur Golf Championships and finished third.
Ribbins states she was encouraged to be involved due to her history and family connection with the sport.
“Growing up in Cayman, I was the only young female golfer the island had except Samantha, who was away at school,” Ribbins said. “I wanted to encourage the young ones to stick with it the whole way through. I thought that maybe spending some time with the kids and showing them how great it can be will increase the number of young players later to come.
“Another thing is people put a lot of time into programmes like this and they deserve as much help as they can get. An hour out of my day to just stay with the kids and show them a few things is nothing compared to what they do for junior golf as a whole. Its the least I could do.
“I’ve been playing since as long as I can remember. My mum, Siobhan Ribbins, is an amazing golfer and I look up to her hugely. We would always play together since I was the same age as the kids I teach now. I’ve played for Cayman on numerous occasions, which were such amazing experiences. I’m still only 16, so I have many more to come.
“A program like this allows kids to be with their friends and have fun, while getting proper lessons from people who have a passion for the sport. It’s such a brilliant sport that brings people together and the more fun kids have with it the more likely they’ll stick with it.
“I hope they stick with it and I get to see them progress and maybe one day I’m playing with them in the Caribbean Championship. School events would be something that I’d love to see happening. More young kids getting involved is key.”
Widmer, 24, states the initiative is about paving the way for more local talent to shine in golf.
“In my opinion, a junior golf programme is essential to any community,” Widmer said. “
I grew up in a less formal program with individuals that donated their time to teaching me different tricks and strategies that have made me the player I am today.
I think parents need to realize the opportunities that are out their for youth in golf and the ability for these kids to possibly gain a college scholarship or that chance to represent the Cayman Islands internationally.
“These are not things that many children have the opportunity to attain and I truly believe that this programme is going to begin to start a new wave of highly motivated and dedicated young Caymanians that will bring our island onto the international stage.”
The next fall session at North Sound is expected to start at the end of November and last until Christmas.
One of the tools the volunteers will use to teach kids is the Starting New At Golf golf kit.
Purchased by the golf association earlier this year, SNAG is designed to introduce beginners to golf fundamentals in a safe way. Each kit contains specially designed plastic golf clubs, rubber golf balls and various other teaching accessories at a cost of approximately US$2,150.
Interestingly, most of the volunteers spoke about the future of the North Sound club. Currently, North Sound is Cayman’s only public 18-hole championship golf course. Dragon Bay Developer Mike Ryan wants to develop a new golf course in the area to replace North Sound. As Nashed states, losing North Sound would be a big blow.
“I think it is crucial the government support golf on the island. Not only as a benefit to the tourist industry, but also as a benefit to the youth of the island. It seems like at every session of the juniors clinic the numbers are growing, which is great. It would be a shame to lose the only 18-hole public course on the Island.”