One of the coolest things we’ve done since I started working at La Paloma back in May is also one of the accomplishments for which I am the most proud. This fall, we started a junior golf team!
The idea came about over the summer when Aaron Quiroga, another one of our Assistant Golf Professionals, and I were discussing ways to improve the junior golf experience at the club, specifically, the after school junior golf program. It’s been virtually non-existent.
Aaron and I both played a lot of after school sports growing up in Tucson: football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and tennis during the school year and swimming in the summer months just to name a few. As two guys who took up the game of golf a little later in life than most, we got to reminiscing about how great it would have been if there was an option for us to attend golf practice in addition to or instead of the other more common organized team sports available to us as kids.
And that’s when it hit us. Not only do we both wish we had learned how to play the game the “right way” earlier in life, we both realized we had a unique opportunity to help future generations do just that – to make up for the lost time and opportunities we never had. Why not form our own team, hold weekly practices, and play in tournaments? It’s something we could do year-round, and we could also field teams to compete in Tucson’s summer junior golf series: Ricki Rarick, PGA Junior League, and the U.S. Kids Golf Local Tours. It’s the one time of year when Tucson has a lot of golf events in which juniors can participate.
The La Paloma Junior Golf Team is restricted to kids 2nd through 8th grade, usually ages 7 or 8 on the younger side and 12 to 13 on the older side. By 2nd grade, juniors are usually mature enough and have long enough attention spans to be productive, and by 8th grade, hopefully, they’re already thinking about playing on their high school golf teams. Once they get to high school, they’ll have their own after school golf practices to attend.
La Paloma is also uniquely situated in that there are three luxury golf courses within a ten-minute drive of one another. Ventana Canyon and Skyline Country Club are less than five miles away. It’s a golfing triangle any golf program would be envious of if only for its beauty.
Most of our tournaments this semester are at La Paloma, but we’re also traveling to Skyline and Ventana for tournaments in hopes they’ll see what we’ve been able to do in such a short time, form their own junior golf teams, and partner with us to form the Catalina Foothills Junior Golf League (CFJGL). It would be a natural feeder system into the local high school golf scene and hopefully, beyond.
Practice runs from 3:30p to 5:00p on Mondays and is specifically reserved for skills development, usually chipping, pitching, and putting. Wednesdays are our play days, and practice runs from 3:30p to 5:30p or 6:00p to allow for the additional travel time when we’re off property. All of the kids wear their team uniforms (La Paloma logo hat, shirt, and pullover) on our plays days, so they can get in the habit of dressing for success. If you look good, you’ll play well, I always say!
Right now, most of our Wednesday play days consist of playing between three and five holes (depending on the format) and exposing the kids to all the different formats they’re likely to encounter in competition from individual stroke play and scrambles to match play and alternate shot. Wednesdays are great because the allow Coach Aaron and myself to see what it is we really need to work on on Mondays. It’s a competitive golf environment, but it’s not so ruthless that the kids don’t have a great time or feel like they can’t keep up.
For me, the most gratifying part of the whole experience so far has been seeing these kids improve from when we first started working with them in mid-September until now. When they show up on Wednesdays wearing their uniforms, they look great, and you can tell they’re proud to be part of La Paloma’s inaugural Junior Golf Team. We’re already getting excited for the spring, and the kids say they “can’t wait to sign-up again.” We can hardly wait either. We’re expecting to go from nine kids up to as many as 20, and at the end of the day, there’s nothing quite like being called “coach.”