Sunday May 20, 2012

LENOX

It's no secret that golf participation has dropped over the past six years. As a result, organizations like the U.S. Golf Association, the PGA of America, the LPGA, First Tee and others have launched initiatives to reverse the trend.

Among the main targets of these efforts are kids. After all, the game will only start to grow again if a new generation discovers that golf is fun, challenging and provides a great social outlet while at the same time teaching many life lessons.

Saturday, Kay McMahon and eduKaytiongolf, with the help of sponsors Guido's Marketplace and Toole Agency insurance, hosted 52 girls ages 6-15 for LPGA Girls Golf Day, one of the LPGA Foundation's Grow the Game initiatives to introduce girls to the game.

One of the young attendees at Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club perhaps summed it up better than any adult could.

"This is fun," she told LPGA Teaching Hall of Famer Kay McMahon. "I thought golf was just for old people."

Face it, that is the perception many kids have about golf. Of course, the reality that it's a game for a lifetime is also one of its great virtues. But kids aren't thinking 50 years down the road.

If the immediate feedback McMahon got from the girls is any indication, some of them will turn into next-generation golfers.

"It wasn't just one kid," McMahon said. "They were all saying ‘this was fun.' A lot of them said they couldn't wait to show their moms and dads what they learned."

McMahon has held countless clinics for kids -- and eduKaytiongolf will be holding youth clinics virtually every week this summer -- so she knows how to make the golf swing understandable and used gimmicks such as a smily face in front of where the girls were hitting from to help them with their swings and alignment (you had to be there).

"The most fun for me was that you could actually see they got better," McMahon said. "They would say, ‘wow that's the longest one I've hit yet!' "

While most of the kids were beginners, a handful had played before and they got the opportunity to play the practice hole at the back end of Cranwell's vast practice area. Colette Basliere, a 13-year-old seventh-grader, hit a shot of the day, putting her tee shot within 3 feet of the hole. As the daughter of Bas Ridge Golf Course owner Bill Basiliere and his wife Chris, Colette has been playing for a while but still found the clinic more than worthwhile.

"Kay helps a lot," said Basliere, who attended an earlier McMahon session at Wahconah Country Club and says she is going to take lessons from the LPGA Hall of Fame teacher going forward.

One of the problems for young girls in the Berkshires is finding peers to play with.

"There's not a lot playing, but they should," Basliere said. "It's such a good sport. I play almost every day and I'm trying to get my friends to play, too."

St. Joseph's High School golfer Danielle Lapierre, a student of McMahon's who served as one of the instructors for Saturday's clinic, has dealt with the lack of female competition in the Berkshires as one of a handful of girls who play on boys high school teams. Lapierre, who will a junior for the fall season, was encouraged by the turnout.

"More girls need to get into the game," she said. "Who knows, maybe some day there will be girls teams [in the Berkshires]."

There are some girls teams in Eastern Mass. that play a spring season and Lapierre will get to test herself against some of those girls on June 5th in the state tournament at the Bay Club in Mattapoisett.

"I've been practicing almost every day and I've been improving faster the more I do practice," said Lapierre, who recently had a personal-best 38 on the front nine at Wahconah CC. "I will get to see how much I have improved since our season."

It was obvious to McMahon that having the girls in a clinic together kept the girls more engaged.

"The girls really liked doing the clinic with other girls," McMahon said. "These were girls who didn't know each other, but by the end they were hugging each other. You could see the camarderie it created."

As someone who benefitted in many ways by being able to play junior golf, I hope Saturday's enthusiastic students have found a new sporting outlet and will let their friends now that golf isn't just for us old folks.