Junior golfers teeing off for fun, future | AspenTimes.com

Junior golfers teeing off for fun, future

Elizabeth SeverySpecial to The Aspen Times
Marie Budsey, 4, of Aspen, practices her swing during a session with Aspen Junior Golf at the Aspen course on a recent morning. Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

At 10 years old, Joseph Kistner is the reigning king of golf rules. His knowledge of the game, its ins and outs, recently won him a beautiful new five wood.”He only missed one question on the rules quiz,” said Alden Richards, the director of the Aspen Junior Golf Foundation.Royalty aside, Kistner is one of 225 youngsters learning the game in Aspen Junior Golf’s popular summer camp program. Participation in the program has jumped drastically over the last five summers, up from 150 youths in 2000.Learning golf isn’t easy these days, nor it is what you might expect. On a recent morning the scene looked more like a circus.Hula hoops, weighted balls and swimming pool-style “noodles” – those long, foam floating things – are Richards’ tools of the trade. Each bizarre toy teaches kids a different aspect of the game, from swing plane to follow-through.Richards and Reed Alexander, the assistant director, also set up skills challenges and stations for chipping, driving and putting – using clubs, of course.

Starting youngAspen Junior Golf tries to reach golfers as young as possible. The idea is to make swinging a golf club as natural as walking. The youngest group is the “Future Golfers,” for four to six-year-olds.”We start them out young just to introduce them to golf,” Richards said. His own daughter, Makaela, now 10, started swinging when she was six.”I play for fun,” Makaela said. “I’m working on hitting it longer.”Some kids, like Makaela, are out on the course to have a good time and hang out with friends. Others, like Kistner, have lofty goals for their golfing futures.”Two weeks ago I played every day,” Kistner said. “I started playing when I was two. My dad had these specially-made clubs.”

Naturally, Aspen Junior Golf tries to accommodate all levels of players in between.”I’m not going to turn any kid away,” said Richards, a longtime fixture at the Aspen links who was recently honored for a third time as the PGA Colorado Section West Junior Golf Leader of the Year. “Some kids are more analytical than others – some kids want to break down a golf swing and others just want to have fun.”Richards has video technology for the ambitious young golfer who wants to see their swing breakdown compared with a professionals’ like Tiger Woods.”The access is here for the kids, and a lot of kids use it,” Richards said. Video technology is only available during private lessons. On TourFor more serious juniors, Richards also runs the Junior Tour in the Rockies kids’ golf series. There are three age categories: six- to eight-year-olds play three to five hole tournaments; nine- to 11-year-olds play six to eight holes; and players over 12 hit nine holes.

The tour events are held Wednesday evenings over seven weeks in the summer. Golfers play courses from Aspen to Rifle.To add a little glimpse of the majors for the juniors, Richards brings in several PGA pros each year to give a clinic. This year, Chris DiMarco, Greg Norman and Stewart Cink, among others, will be in Snowmass Aug. 1-3 for the Vince Gill-Amy Grant Snowmass Club Charity Classic. Twenty lucky junior golfers will get to caddie for the professionals in the tournament, and the rest will attend the clinic, for Aspen Junior Golf players and Challenge Aspen participants, on Aug. 2.Kistner, who is also a talented baseball player, said Aspen Junior Golf is his favorite summertime activity. And he plans to stick with the program until he can hold his own with DiMarco and the like. “I’m shooting to be in the PGA,” he said.For more information about Aspen Junior Golf programs, call the caddyshack at 920-3221.

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