Last Sunday, Whitefish Lake Golf Club began its annual junior golf program. This was the first of four Sundays where kids will get a chance at free golf instruction in a group setting from the pros.
In 1994, Derek Denning (seen below speaking to the kids) began participating in the Junior Golf Program at age five. He now runs the program and in the last few years has begun modernizing the club’s approach to juniors.
Two years ago, Derek attended a golf seminar in Las Vegas where Titleist presented a class about the research they’d done regarding juniors and how to retain new golfers. Excited about what he’d learned, he came back to Whitefish and began making changes. Last year, they implemented the Titleist program whose motto is that you create athletes before you create golfers. The lessons were broken up into stations geared toward building athletic skills.
After more research, this year they’ve implemented an innovative approach called SNAG, which stands for “Starting New At Golf.” SNAG’s mission statement is “To get people physically active by introducing them to golf in a fun and easy way that encourages a lifetime of positive experiences and relationships. To address the demographic, geographic, economic, and educational barriers that prevent the masses from participating in this lifetime sport.”
Large weighted clubs and tennis balls are used instead of traditional metal clubs and golf balls. Derek says that this alone has made the program more enjoyable for the staff and the kids because less time is spent teaching about safety. The stations include launching, chipping (at a bull’s eye), putting, an obstacle course and relay race.
Though SNAG is new to Whitefish Lake Club Juniors, junior golf is not. Whitefish Lake Golf Club has a strong reputation for fostering junior golfers into successful lifelong golfers and state champions. The program is in its thirty first year thanks to the work Mike Dowaliby (seen below last Sunday watching the juniors) has done since he started the program in 1977.
At age four, the current head professional Tim Olson was trained by Dowaliby as an early participant in the program. Though retired now, Dowaliby cares deeply about kids and still teaches some kids in private lessons.
This new program may not be the old school – teach them the grip, how to swing and manners on the course. But, that will come later. Now, they just want to snag them and keep them coming back to golf.
When Denning is asked why he thinks it is important for kids to learn golf, he says, “Because it teaches honesty. It is the only sport where you are out there alone and you must referee yourself.”
Tomorrow is the second Sunday of a free four week junior golf program that will be followed by a more intensive three day summer session in June. Kids ages 5-8 play from 2-3pm and kids ages 9-13 play from 3:30-4:30pm. All are welcome. Call the Whitefish Lake Golf Club Pro Shop at 862-5960 for more information.