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Players wanted

Local golf courses open, offering kids, teen programs



From the time his family dentist signed him in to Victoria Golf Club at age 12 Andrew Smart skipped as much school he could to play golf.

"I probably played golf 300 days a year until I went to college," the Whistler golf pro said.

Now director of golf at Nicklaus North, Smart hopes to instill that same love of the sport in potential golfers with school-age to teenage programs this summer.

"Our goal is to ensure growth of the game and that kids learn to play golf and feel comfortable on the golf course and in here (the club) because this can be a reasonably intimidating place," Smart said on May 5, Nicklaus North’s opening day.

Two programs – one for 12 and unders, the other for teens – will focus on learning not only playing skills, but golf’s history, traditions, etiquette and culture.

"And because an hour and a half of golf isn’t that exciting for a five-year-old there will be way more focus on fun," said golf shop manager Gavin Eckford.

"They’ll be hitting balls out into the lake, building sand castles, having chipping competitions," Eckford said.

A golf pro for six years, Eckford remembers as a 14 year old being dragged to a local Vancouver course by a friend.

"One shot and I was hooked," he said. "It’s a difficult game in many ways with lots of variables involved in a swing, but the adrenalin rush from the one shot you hit that’s fantastic keeps you coming back for more."

His boss explains it further.

"Golf is the only sport where there’s no referee," Smart said. "If there’s a rule infraction you call it on yourself."

No authority figures may appeal to teenagers interested in signing up for the $399 membership that started last week and includes three lessons with a golf pro, a Nicklaus North tournament entry and unlimited access to the course. Smart said fees can be subsidized through Kidsport and reasonably priced clubs are available. Also, for the month of May, free introductory Nicklaus North lessons run Saturday afternoons, 4-6 p.m., for anyone curious about the sport.

Three other local courses will also offer kids summer golf programs. Fairmont Chateau Whistler will offer Saturday clinics for under 13s and for 14-17 year-olds that vary from one hour to full-day. Depending on response they may also offer the clinics seven days a week.

Big Sky Golf and Country Club offers a junior pass for 7-18 year olds that includes four 30-minute lessons and unlimited access to the course and driving range. They will also custom tailor two-three-day camps for one-four participants.

Whistler Golf Course does not have a junior membership program, but will offer five-week lesson programs for those under 17.

"Everyone believes golf is really expensive and you have to spend $4,000 on golf clubs but that’s not the case," Smart said.

Trevor O’Reilly is a 21-year-old pro now living in Hawaii who started playing golf at Nicklaus North when he was 12.

"For some young kids it can be an intimidating setting," O’Reilly said in a telephone interview. "You’re used to lots of older people being there. But they just made it really fun. The pros want to help you and take you out on the course to play."

Smart said those who play golf five times are considered golfers and that the sport stays with a person through their life.

"Of the 20 kids I grew up with in Victoria," Smart said. "Fourteen are golf pros, 12 went to university on golf scholarships, and all of them are still very involved in the game. It’s a game we’re passionate about and we want to pass that on to the community."

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