SCHENECTADY – Not every shot was perfect, but the smiles never left the 17 excited faces, and the giggles were constant for the extremely focused group of junior golfers on a sizzling hot day at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
It was Wednesday, day three of the second week in the Junior Golf Alliance’s First Tee DRIVE of New York/Capital Region’s summer junior golf camp. Junior Golf Alliance president Frank Ciarlo oversaw the group that received golf instruction from Muni assistant pros Chris Bentrovato and Ryan Poltorak, as well as supervision from several parents and interested family members. On tap this day were lessons on pitching. Later, the kids got the chance to hit their irons and other assorted clubs before breaking for lunch.
“We had nine kids the first week, and 17 the second week,” Ciarlo said. “Some kids signed up for both weeks.
“The younger kids are 6-7 years old. Other kids come to us with some advance training. We break the kids up into groups, and we spend time with the younger kids, focusing on the basics. We work with them on putting and chipping. We have kids here who already have the basics, and some others who don’t,” Ciarlo explained. “For the kids who have the basics, we work on alignment and how to hit the right shots out on the course.”
“The PGA has a program for kids 6-8 or 9-years old. You can get more interactive with the kids who have that attention span. There is more fun, and a lot of games. There is a low ratio of adults to kids, with maybe one adult to every three or four kids. The kids have more fun that way. They are more engaged.”
According to Ciarlo, most of the youngsters in the program have some sort of athletic experience.
“If a child has some type of athletic background, they often pick up golf a lot easier,” he said. “We have one child with a dance background, so we try to talk about dance moves with their swing. One kid hadn’t played golf before, but their favorite baseball player is (former Boston Red Sox baseball star David Ortiz) Big Papi, and she can swing the golf club just like a bat.
“We also have a 12-year-old hockey player who already has a great move with his swing. Making the transition from a hockey swing to a golf swing was pretty easy. Having that low ratio of kids to adults helps us find out what works best for each kid. Every kid is different, with different skills and a different attention span.”
The clinics are moderate in cost, only $100 for the week, and they include lunch every day. SRI Fire Sprinkler sponsored the lunches for this summer’s clinics. The Junior Golf Alliance’s First Tee summer program is always looking for sponsorship help and volunteers to work with the kids.
“They enjoy the camaraderie and the team competition,” Ciarlo said. “We don’t get focused on scoring until later in the week. We try to make it all about the fun. We partner with the local PGA professionals who do the training, and we do the life skills. That’s what the First Tee program is all about. It’s not just all about the golf. We’ve got the best teachers out there to help them with the game, but we also bring in special guests, like a policeman and a fireman, to talk about community involvement. We expose these kids to life skills along with golf.”
Ciarlo said one unique aspect about the local First Tee program is how it interacts with youngsters in the school program. “We promote our program in the schools, and the kids can play with their friends on a team environment with school equipment. But what’s different about us is that if the kids are interested in continuing, we have an afterschool program once a week. That takes them to the next level. They can play with their friends after school. Later on, we even take them to the course.
“Some of these kids, whether they are from the inner city or not, might not have golf or golfers as part of their culture,” Ciarlo said. “With our program, we give them that opportunity to learn the game. If they are interested and want to continue, we help them do that.”