A revamped format in the summer junior golf program has proven to be a hit, with 40 to 50 kids attending weekly lessons at Powell Golf Club.
A joint effort of the PGC and the Powell Recreation District, the program meets at the club every Wednesday morning for an hour of instruction, followed by a round of golf on the course. Lessons include instruction on pre-swing fundamentals, putting, chipping, pitching, full-swing, rules and etiquette.
PGA professional Mike Propp oversees the program for the PGC, and it was his idea to change the format from a three-day program during one week in the summer to a weekly activity.
“We felt that to really help our juniors get better at the game and gain a better understanding of the rules and etiquette, it would be better to expand the program to a weekly format throughout the summer,” Propp said. “As busy as everyone is in the summer, it’s possible you could be gone those three days. With this, we have nine weeks of junior golf, mixed in with a couple of tournaments in those nine weeks.”
Also this summer is the Big Horn Basin Junior Golf Tour, consisting of four tournaments in four different locations throughout the summer. The first leg of the tour kicked off in Thermopolis on June 21; the next leg is scheduled for July 19 in Cody. The third leg will be held July 26 in Worland, with Powell hosting the Big Horn Basin Junior Golf Championship Aug. 2.
“The Junior Tour is in addition to our junior program,” Propp explained. “When Powell hosts the Tour Championship, we’ll have a nice awards ceremony and luncheon, and all the golfers from all the clubs will be here. It will be a good thing for golf, and a good thing for Powell Golf Club as well.”
Golf can be a difficult sport to learn at any age, and Propp said that, just from his own experience, a three-day junior program was doing a disservice to kids interested in learning the game.
“I know with golf, with my own game, you can’t help me in one day,” he said. “It really needs to be an ongoing program. We wanted to expand it through the whole summer, because we want to see these kids weekly, interact with them and help them get better.”
Three weeks into the program, Propp said the number of participants has grown each week, from the low 40s in the first week to over 50 in week three. Propp said the Powell Rec District has done a “fantastic job” in promoting the program, as well as providing transportation for kids out to the club each week.
“I wasn’t sure how the partnership was going to go, because normally I’ve done it all through the golf club [at previous clubs he’s worked at],” Propp said. “But Powell Rec has been a fantastic partner. Colby Stenerson and Joe Cates have been awesome, and everybody at the district has just been fantastic. We’d like to continue that.”
Golfers ages 13 and up attend a one-hour golf school beginning at 8 a.m., followed by a round of golf at 9 a.m. Kids 7-12 begin golf school at 9:15
followed by a nine-hole round at 10:15 a.m. The cost is $60 per golfer for the entire nine-week course, and kids can join at any time.
“We’re really hoping for more volunteer help, through parents or anyone who wants to be involved,” Propp said. “I think it just helps make our program even better. But I think we have a great start for junior golf.”
The game of golf has seen a steady decline nationally over the years, especially among younger golfers. According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of golfers between the ages of 18 and 34 has declined by 30 percent over the past 20 years. A number of factors have contributed to this decline, making programs like junior golf that much more vital to the game’s survival.
“I think [junior golf programs] are crucial,” Propp said. “For the future of the club, the junior program is a lifeline. We want it to be a family sport. Golf is a lifelong game, and to be able to do that as a family, get some exercise, is such a great thing.”
Propp said he’s been pleasantly surprised by the number of participants in this summer’s program. For those who want to learn, he hopes the program is providing all the tools and skills kids need to enjoy the sport.
“I really think we have a first-rate program,” he said. “I’d like to interview the kids now after three weeks, just to see how they compare the experience to their first week. ... It’s so encouraging to me to see how they develop, because it’s a game of angles and timing. When you know what to do and how to set up to the ball correctly, that’s a big part of it.”
“Like Jack Nicklaus said, 95 percent of mistakes happen before you ever swing the club,” Propp added. “If I can get the kids to set up correctly, get those good fundamentals, it really is exciting. It’s been super-fun for me, and I hope it’s been fun for them.”