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On the Beat

T Santa Teresa–

he best intentions can be born in unlikely places. Twenty years ago the operators of Santa Teresa Golf Club, a very public course

in Santa Clara, were ensconced at Augusta National, the aggressively private bastion of the one percent. After touring Augusta’s wonderful par-3 course the Santa Teresa folks realized that they had a nice patch of unused land on which they could build their own short course. This little track has since become an important incubator, as the Santa Teresa facility—including its excel- lent championship course—is now a model for growing the game at the grassroots level. Santa Teresa’s Youth on Course program boasts nearly 400 members every year, making it a flagship for one of the NCGA’s most far-reaching initiatives. YOC mem- bers at Santa Teresa can play either the par-3 or championship course for the princely sum of $5, making golf accessible to a community with extremely varied demographics. To provide competitive opportunities for all of these kids, Santa Teresa hosts monthly tournaments on its par-3 course, cramming 80 rascals into the field and always running a waitlist because demand is so great. In 2008, a so-called Little League program was born in which four eight-player teams compete in varied formats. All of this is overseen by Terry Sullivan, who has spent 19 years at Santa Teresa, devot- ing much of his time to junior golf. “I’m lucky that our ownership

group is so supportive, and that they’ve 10 / NCGA.ORG / SUMMER 2015

The Mother of All Things Junior Golf

always given us direction in going forward with our junior program,” says Sullivan. “They see the future not just as next year, but as 10-15 years from now. We gotta develop golfers if we want to keep this place going.” Sullivan says that many of the

early adaptors from the first Youth on Course classes are now twentysome- things who have entered the work- force and help fill up Santa Teresa’s tee sheet on the weekends. For all the doom and gloom about the sport’s future, it’s encouraging to know that golfers are a sustainable, renewable resource, if they’re grown right. The First Tee does a wonderful job intro- ducing golf to kids, but many First Tee facilities are not attached to actual golf courses. Youth on Course was devised to bridge that gap, and Santa Teresa’s par-3 is the perfect starter course. It’s barely more than 900 yards but features water hazards, mature trees and serious bunkering; the large

greens boast some of the purest putting surfaces in the area. “It’s a great place to learn the game in a low-pressure environment,” says Sullivan. “The kids learn to play from the green backward, learning how to score. Then they learn how to hit driver.” Earl Woods is among the golf dads who taught the game this way, too. Santa Teresa’s Little League is also a model of inclusiveness. As Sullivan puts it, “Most golf is individual—it’s you against everybody else. But kids grow up playing team sports and they like the team atmosphere. It’s easier to get them into competition if they have teammates and a coach.” At Santa Teresa, these coaches are the PGA professionals who work in the golf shop. The popularity of this program may or may not have helped inspire the PGA of America’s new Junior League Golf, which is the exact same concept. The results are impressive: Santa Teresa has birthed two California high school individual cham- pions (Justin Suh and Sabrina Iqbal), multiple NCGA Junior Tour Players of the Year and dozens of collegiate golfers. Says Sullivan, “It makes me feel

good to know we’re doing something right, that the juniors are learning to be respectful, learning the rules and tradi- tions, and developing a strong love for the game.” That’s what it’s all about: passing on this great game to the next generation.”

ALAN SHIPNUCK is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. His introduction to golf came as a cart boy at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

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