Noah Wilkinson and Cameron Dilney sat cross-legged on the green as BREC kicked off its PGA Junior League golf play at City Park on Saturday morning.
The 8-year-old teammates are in the first class of developing golfers in BREC’s new program, what BREC Golf Director Mike Raby called “golf’s version of Little League.”
The PGA of America launched the Junior League initiative in 2011 in four cities, offering a team-based scramble format of play designed to make the game more accessible to kids. In scramble play, after the first shot, each player spots his or her ball at the ending spot of the team’s best shot.
Terry said this style of play lowers the pressure on the players and doesn’t punish them for making mistakes, which he said is important for children learning the game.
Terry, who has been playing golf since he was a boy, says the game has much to teach — discipline, determination, self-knowledge, self-improvement — but not necessarily many that are attractive to young people. Some of the etiquette and culture surrounding golf, which he admitted can be stuffy , could be off-putting to kids who aren’t given the right introduction.
The parents, many of whom are golfers themselves, largely agreed and tried to emphasize the fun aspects of the game to their children. When Wilkinson chipped an elegant shot squarely onto the green, his dad, Brian, rewarded him with a high-five and pat on the back. When he knocked one into a tree branch, they shrugged and continued to the next one.
This is an early stage of the league, Terry emphasized, and the focus is on building skills and helping the children fall in love with the game. They can learn the proper times to clap and be quiet at a later time, he said.
BREC also offers the First Tee program, which teaches these finer points of the game, as well as helping golfers fine-tune their game and overcome mental obstacles with personal tutoring. It’s the latter that shows golf’s true value, Terry said: The life skills learned on a golf course can go on to benefit individuals and the community.
“Golf brings a few benefits — there are green spaces and recreation, as you can see,” Terry said. “But it can also help you learn a lot about yourself. And that adds something to the community.”
That’s good news for BREC and the game in general. Since being advised to close two courses in December, BREC has instituted a number of programs to bring new players to its courses.
Terry recognized that Baton Rouge, with seven golf courses, has more than most comparable and even larger cities. He sees Junior League play as a positive solution that keeps the golf course open while attracting new audiences.
The new audience BREC is reaching isn’t just younger, either. It’s more diverse, with girls making up nearly half of the programs registrants and minority golfers making up more of the group than he has seen in the past, Terry said. He added that it is a natural and necessary progression for the sport.
After Wilkinson chipped his ball onto the green, he and Dilney plopped down, watching the others putt and telling each other knock-knock jokes.
In a normal game, they’d be chastised and told to stand respectfully.
Here, they, the other golfers and the parents all just watch, listen and learn.