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Junior golf clinic at Otter Creek effort to give sport more exposure


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It appeared to be a particularly aggravating moment.

Everything was ready to go for the first Under Armour/Jeff Overton Championship youth golf clinic at Otter Creek Golf Course last July when rain moved into the area in a hurry.

Bad luck, right?

Not so, said John Fairbanks, a driving force behind bringing the American Junior Golf Association event to Columbus.

“We hadn’t built into the clinic any one-on-one time for photos and autographs with Jeff,” said Fairbanks. “The rain could not have happened at a better time. Now there are kids from all over Columbus who have a picture of a local PGA Tour pro.”

Overton, who holds the Otter Creek course record, and Indiana University golf coach Mike Mayer were speaking to those assembled for the clinic before the kids got to try shots at various learning stations. Then the rain came and forced everyone into the clubhouse.

It became obvious that Overton was wonderful dealing with the kids face-to-face.

Putting on the first event certainly posed some challenges, but Fairbanks said the tournament committee learned and will make some minor changes to make this year’s clinic, which will be conducted at 1 p.m. June 30 at Otter Creek, even better. Now there will be a built-in window of time for Overton to spend one-on-one time with local kids.

The clinic is free and open to anyone, of any age, who would like to attend.

Last year’s clinic drew about 140 spectators and an estimated 90 kids. Fairbanks said his committee was thrilled.

“The No. 1 goal was to introduce golf at that level,” he said. “We wanted to bring in a group of kids who had not been introduced like that before ... up close and personal. The second component was introducing the First Tee program at the same time.”

While those who attended the clinic did hear about the First Tee of Indiana Columbus Chapter program, the program itself wasn’t launched in Columbus last year. That’s the hope for this upcoming year.

“Right now, the road map we are on, is that there are two prongs to the First Tee program,” said Chad Cockerham, the PGA Head Golf Pro at Otter Creek. “The first part is the golf in schools program (First Tee National Schools Program) and the second is the green grass side of it (where kids enjoy functions on a golf course or at a club). I think we are set for the schools program this fall.

“We will provide schools (in the Bartholomew Consolidated Schools Corporation) with a kit, the SNAG (Starting New at Golf) equipment, and also will provide online training for teachers. The intent would be to put the program into the curriculum. The impact this would have on the amount of kids it would touch would be astronomical. As part of the program, kids are taught nine core values, or healthy habits. During the program, kids will explore those core values.”

Cockerham said golf has to find a way to introduce the sport to more kids.

“The one thing we have faced in the golf industry is that the sport is introduced by family or friends to kids when they are middle school ages. The problem is that they already have been exposed to baseball, soccer and football at a much younger age.

“The hope is that even if we have just that touch of exposure, at least we are planting the seed.”

The SNAG equipment includes foam-based targets, clubs and balls. “The crossover is similar to T-Ball and baseball,” Cockerham said. “It’s similar in nature.”

The second part of the First Tee program is to draw participants to a golf course or a club like Foundation For Youth. Kids will meet for a class, perhaps an hour or so in length, and take part in an eight- to nine-week program. Each week the kids will be exposed to a program value along with golf instruction.

“It’s structured like the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts,” Cockerham said. “You meet and greet, talk about something like respect. Then maybe you will do some chipping, learn about fixing divots.”

Cockerham said the eventual hope is funds collected allow a First Tee director to be hired to run a year-round program. He said such a program would need many volunteers.

The Columbus Par 3 Course will host a First Tee introduction from July 14 to 18, 9 a.m. each day. The five-day program costs $25. More information on the program can be found at indianagolf.org.

The Under Armour/Jeff Overton Championship, which matches many of the nation’s top junior golfers, will be July 1 to 3 at Otter Creek.

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