This morning, several of my Golf Academy classmates and I volunteered at the Junior Golf Association of Arizona’s Mesa City Junior Championship at Dobson Ranch. This is the same course where I used to go to practice when I took Introduction to Golf at Arizona State in the late 1990s. For whatever reason, we never had class at the ASU Karsten Golf Course (the school’s official course) just off campus, only at Dobson. Standing under the starter’s tent going over the Rules of Play for the day and announcing the names of these junior golfers brought me back to my days as a junior golfer. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the 7:51 starting time. First on the tee, from Tucson, Arizona, Daniel Bubany.” I never got that kind of fanfare. There were no starters like that when I played.
I started playing golf a little later than most juniors, I guess. I’m not sure why. Hardly any of my childhood friends played golf, and I think when I was a kid, emulating my major league baseball idols and attending a summer tennis camp seemed like more fun than sweating bullets and swinging a primitive metal stick out on a golf course somewhere.
But there is one summer I will never forget. That’s the summer I decided to play in some junior golf tournaments in the Tucson area around where I grew up. The Ricki Rarick Junior Golf Program is a great introduction to competitive junior golf. While Ricki looks and sounds like a girl’s name, Ricki Rarick was all man. Rarick was a World War II aviator who was shot down over the North Sea while on a bombing mission. He broke his neck and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war. When he moved to Tucson from Iowa, he became almost solely responsible for keeping the Tucson Open on the PGA Tour calendar from 1945 through 1965 while starting, operating, and funding one of the leading Junior Golf programs in the world.
My first set of clubs was a MacGregor Golden Bear junior set, named after the great Jack Nicklaus himself. The set came with a wooden driver and 3-wood, a 5-iron, a 7-iron, a 9-iron, and a putter. That’s all I had. I got the set at a neighborhood yard sale, and I’m sure they’re long gone by now. The golf bag that it came with had this really rough leather strap on it, and when I carried it, it would rub my shoulders raw. This was before the days of those “cushy” backpack-style straps they have today.
I still remember how nervous I would get on the first tee. At one tournament in particular, I remember how close some of the parents were standing to the tee box and fairway. I remember there being a pretty good-sized gallery for these tournaments, like they were professional tournaments or something. “These people have never seen me play,” I thought to myself. “I might hit one of them.” Cue the nerves.
The girls we watched today all had great golf swings. A few of them attend the Fisher Bryan Golf Academy at Longbow in Mesa, some of them have college golf aspirations, and a couple of them are in it for the fashion. No joke. One girl this morning told me she had 43 Lululemon golf skirts. They’re $60 a pop. Do the math. But I have to say, I was really impressed. Not one of them seemed overly concerned about hitting it into the parents.