O ne only need watch famous golf tournaments – such as the Masters Golf Tournament, the U.S. Open or the Players Championship – to be inspired by the skill and grace of the game.
But for a 13-year-old kid – or a 3-year-old child, for that matter – aspiring to one day wear a green jacket or raise a silver trophy may seem like both an impossible dream and an insurmountable goal.
Thanks to the summer tournament schedule at Pottawatomie Golf Course in St. Charles, there are ample opportunities for young golfers to experience the thrill of competition and the satisfaction of a game well played. No longer do young players have to watch from the sidelines. At Pottawatomie, children from ages 3 to 18 have stroke-play tournaments to play in themselves.
“Tournament play takes golf to another level,” says Ron Skubisz, Pottawatomie Golf Course manager and PGA pro. “It’s an opportunity for a child to be king of the hill for a little while.”
The park district course hosts two youth golf tournaments during the summer months.
The Little Guys and Gals tournament is designed for children ages 3 to 11 and will take place Tuesday, July 18.
The Junior Tournament – for those ages 12 to 18 – is a two-day, stroke-play competition that will take place Wednesday, July 19, and Thursday, July 20.
Tournament play is an ideal way for young golfers to realize the rules, regulations and etiquette of the game, says Bill Ogiego, assistant golf manager.
“Out on the course, everything counts – every hole, every stroke. You play it as it lies,” says Ogiego. “Kids really start to understand the rules of the game.”
And it’s not just official rules that are stressed during tournament play. As the old saying goes, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” And, in golf, that “how” is just as much about attitude and behavior as it is about putting and chipping.
While the game of golf follows accepted rules of practice – raking the sand in the traps, replacing divots on the greens and fairway – tournament play stresses codes of good sportsmanship that can be applied to off-course behavior, too. For starters, players remove caps and introduce themselves to their fellow players before they tee off.
“I like to express the sentiment that everyone likes to win, but you’re here to encourage each other,” says Skubisz. “And that brings in another element of golf – you can make lifelong friends, even at a young age.”
In fact, age is a great leveling factor in golf. Unlike football, for instance, where it might not be appropriate or feasible for a grandfather to actually play the game with his grandson, golf encourages generations to enjoy the game together.
“We have a lot of senior players here at Pottawatomie and many of them are willing to play with younger players,” says Skubisz. “Part of the experience is that the junior players are learning from the seniors and vice versa.”
Learning from other golfers is another reason youth tournaments are so popular with and beneficial to budding players. In both the Little Guys and Gals, and the Junior tournaments, players are grouped according to age. Observing your fellow players is a great way of improving your own game, says to Skubisz.
“Say you’re a mid-level player who wants to become an upper-level player,” says Skubisz. “If you’re fortunate enough to be paired with one, you have the opportunity to see how they do things. What do they do that I don’t do? It’s difficult for a youngster to watch a player on TV and want to be like them. It’s different when they’re watching a peer. For those perceptive enough to recognize it, it’s a rare opportunity to learn things.”
It’s also a great opportunity to enjoy a bit of role reversal. For players in the Little Guys and Gals tournament, a parent or guardian acts as the child’s caddy. Grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles can come out and watch the competition, but it’s mom or dad who actually carries the clubs. At the end of the game, the players give a round of applause for the parent who caddied for them.
In fact, golf is becoming more and more of a family sport. Skubisz sees an increase in parents taking an active role in a child’s golf lessons and practice sessions. They will stay and listen to the guidance being given by the instructor, maybe even videotaping the lesson to help the child reinforce those newly-acquired skills on their own. And when a child competes in a tournament, sometimes he does so in front of his parents or guardians, brothers and sisters and grandparents.
“I think that’s the hope and the future of golf,” says Skubisz. “I think it’s our job at Pottawatomie to make golf a family activity in whatever way we can. Our job is to make that environment possible.”
Registration for both the Little Guys and Gals, and the Junior tournaments ends at 7 p.m. July 16. For more information, contact Bill Ogiego at 630-584-8356.