Owen Farino takes a practice swing at the Hopewell Valley Golf and Country Club driving range, Oct. 13, 2017. (Photo by Mike Schwartz/mikeschwartz.photo.)
Youth participation is down in almost every sport, and golf is no exception. But at the Hopewell Valley’s two golf courses, new initiatives like the PGA Jr. League may be well on their way to reversing the trend.
The Professional Golf Association of America started the PGA Jr. League in 2011 intent on drawing more kids to the game. Clubs host teams who participate against other club teams in 9-hole, 2-player scrambles. Girls and boys play together wearing shirts with numbers on them, as in other team sports.
Dave Gilman, assistant golf professional at Hopewell Valley, said if teams have more than eight players, the pros will sub players in and out of matches after three, six or nine holes. “They have fun and it’s a good way to get introduced to the game,” he said.
Players also sometimes receive instruction between matches from the professionals on the practice ranges of their home or nearby courses. The local PGA Jr. League finishes up its fall schedule this month, so on a blustery Friday in October, players from both the Hopewell Valley and Stonybrook teams were practicing at Hopewell Valley under the watchful eyes of Gilman and Joe Porter, the head pro at Stonybrook.
Or like Eric Savas, number 3 on the Stonybrook team. The 10-year-old Pennington resident is in his second year in the fall league. In between enthusiastically whacked driver shots at the range, Eric said his favorite thing about the PGA Jr. League is hitting the ball over the Stony Brook Creek on Hopewell Valley’s 1st hole.
Dan Savas, Eric’s father, said he first learned about the league from Porter. The Savas family had seen an article in the Hopewell Express about Porter teaching golf to kids with autism spectrum disorder. They took Eric, who is on the spectrum, to see Porter for some lessons, and the rest is history.
Trujillo said for him, matches aren’t even the most fun part of being in the league. It’s being at the driving range, where he can see how far his shots go. (Most ranges have distance markers to aid players in tracking their shots.)
Joaquin’s father, Manuel, said Joe Porter is a great mentor for the kids. “Joe has a great technique,” he said. “He’s very personal and he gets them right at ease.”
“Afterward they were recording it and they asked me what club I used and I said a seven iron,” Manuel added. “They said, ‘No, don’t say that,’ because the hole was too short for a seven iron. But I didn’t know, it was one of my first times playing.” The Trujillos have played many times as a family since the boys took up the game.
The PGA reports that nationwide, more than 42,000 kids ages 7–13 participated in 2017. If you are interested in signing your kids up for next year’s spring, summer or fall leagues, contact Hopewell Valley Golf Club at (609) 466-3000 or Stonybrook Golf Club at (609) 466-2215.