Stillwater News Press


June 23, 2012

Lakeside Junior Golf Academy helps students learn the game

STILLWATER, Okla. — When Michael Henderson arrived as the new golf pro at Lakeside Golf Course in 2010, he knew the tradition of golf that surrounded Stillwater — with the 10-time NCAA champion and 16-time NCAA runner-up Oklahoma State men’s golf program in town.

But what Henderson wasn’t expecting to see was the lack of junior golf programs in town.

“The only thing (Lakeside) did when I got here was a two-day summer camp, which was basically just two hours of instruction during the summer and that was it,” Henderson said. “So when I got here what we wanted to do was start a program that was a continuous program that went throughout the year.”

So in August 2010, Henderson began the Junior Golf Academy at Lakeside with eight participants. Two years later, Henderson has seen his junior golf program grow to more than 30 kids participating.

The academy is run with four instructors, including three Oklahoma State students who played golf at the high school level and were all-state golfers: Michael Atkins, who attended Perkins-Tryon High School; Amy Wingo and Warren Cunningham. Henderson, who was recently recognized as the South Central PGA’s outstanding junior golf leader, also serves as an instructor for the program.

The ages vary from 5 to 13 years old with Henderson’s decision to expand the age range leading to the recent increase in interest.

“What got me to thinking about starting the ages earlier is watching my son play T-ball. He’s 4-years-old and I’m thinking, if this kid can handle a bat and hit a ball at other kids then why can’t they be on the golf course?” Henderson said.

“Historically, you won’t be seeing programs starting with kids at 5-years-old but this is something we’ve been able to experiment with and I think it's working.”

Henderson also said one of the biggest increases is also in the amount of young female golfers joining the academy.

“Historically, you don’t see at a lot of golf courses is a lot of young females coming out,” Henderson said. “I think it helps that we have a female instructor (Wingo) on staff, who works with them. But at the same time, our biggest room for growth is going to be that female demographic.”

As Henderson put it, the benefit of the program isn’t to create the next Tiger Woods. It’s more of an introductory program to get kids involved in the game of golf and learn the fundamental instructions, as well as course etiquette.

“It’s so at some point the parents can drop them off by themselves and not worry about them bothering other golfers or other golfers bothering them,” Henderson said. “So ideally the goal is for them to experience the game and then they will start coming back with the junior high program and the high school program.”

The Junior Golf Academy isn’t limited to novice golfers. Henderson said they will get parents who have never played to bring their kids to the course for the program. He also said parents don’t have to go right out and pay for equipment for their kids to participate in the academy.

“We’ve had a few kids who have never played golf before. So we encourage the parents to not go out and spend a lot of money right off the bat,” Henderson said. “Let them try some of our equipment and if its something they want to continue, then maybe come back in here and talk about getting them a starter set.”

While the kids get used to the game of golf, they won’t have the pressures of adult instructors or rotating coaches. All of the instructors — outside of Henderson — are in college and each instructor works with a specific age group year round.

“Each instructor handles a certain age group, so the kids are seeing the same instructor each week. We meet about eight times a month, so the rapport between the instructor and the student is very important,” Henderson said.

“The kids become comfortable with the instructor and I think it's less intimidating when you are seeing the same person each week — plus the instructors get to know the kids and their needs.”

 The success of the program has come with just word of mouth promotion, which has Henderson a little surprised by the growth of the program in such a short time frame in a smaller community like Stillwater.

“I’m very, very happy with how things are going. And frankly, a little surprised that we’ve had this much turnout for golf in a market this small,” Henderson said. “With four other golf courses within 10 miles, but we've kind of positioned ourselves as the junior golf location of Stillwater.”

Henderson said they are reaching a point where the program is becoming too big for their two-day a week sessions that include all ages. But he added that they have no intentions of putting a cap on the amount of junior golfers in the program.

“What we’re eventually going to have to do is schedule more days. We’ll have to split the groups up and it will just be more work for our instructors,” Henderson said. “It’s a great problem to have — figuring out what we are going to do if it keeps growing. ... We won't cap it. We haven't turned anybody away.”

The program cost $75 per month, started in May and typically runs through mid November — depending on the weather. Henderson said it is basically broken down to pay about $9 per session, which is the normal cost of green fees for junior golfers at Lakeside.

“So basically you could come out and pay for a green fee for your kid. Or you could have them get to work with an instructor and it’s supervised and getting to be with other kids,” Henderson said.

Another bonus of the program is that parents don’t have to pay for a full year of the program, so they aren’t strapped down by a lengthy contract.

“There’s no contract involved so the players can come in and out of the program as the year goes along. So if parents take them on summer vacation or the kids play other sports, they aren’t strapped down by it. So it’s kind of a no hassle situation,” Henderson said.

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