Andy Higinbotham (top photo) and Olivia Ishmael (bottom photo) prepare to drive the ball at Timberview Golf Club on Tuesday. The Union County Junior Golf Academy-Tour began its 2017 season and will run through the month of June.
(Journal-Tribune photos by Tim Miller)
Despite the heat and the threat of afternoon thunderstorms, the Union County Jr. Golf Academy-Tour (UCJGAT) teed off its 15th season at Timberview Golf Club on Tuesday.
Competition began at 10 a.m. for nearly 40 golfers in the Academy (10-12 years old) and Tour (13-17) divisions. Tour youngsters played 18 holes, while the Academy played nine.
The program is working this month with 52 total youngsters, with the remainder in the Premier (ages 7-9) division.
The younger golfers were involved in a clinic at Darby Creek while the other two divisions competed at Timberview.
All three divisions will play on Thursday at Blues Creek.
UCJGAT director Larry Morris said there is always behind-the-scene work needed in order to prepare for any season.
“It involves getting information out to all of our golfers and their families,” he said. “We also work well with all of the local courses in order to schedule days during a compressed season that lasts the month of June.
“We also work to determine the skill levels that we have for any particular season,” said Morris. “Ken (Darby Creek pro Collett) handles a lot of that.”
Morris said there are no changes to the 2017 season. As in the past couple of years, the entire program is conducted within a three-week span.
During the first decade-plus, the program was spread out into July. However, Morris found that was cutting into vacation time for families.
“It gives us a pretty hectic June, but it frees up our month of July,” he said.
Each event begins at 10 a.m. and young golfers are usually off the course by 4 p.m.
Inclement weather halted play early in the Tour girls division on Tuesday.
“We try to get off the courses and out of the parking lots before each club’s evening league players arrive,” said Morris. “We also want to finish in time to allow the kids to go to their baseball and softball games or other evening activities.”
Morris said the program has been successful in sparking interest in golf at area middle and high schools.
“It’s hard to say how many of these kids go on to play at those levels,” he said. “Kids take different paths as they get older, but naturally, we hope they all go on to play golf with their school teams.”
UCJGAT has been especially beneficial to the Fairbanks golf program.
“Over the years, we have returned quite a few of our younger players to the Fairbanks middle school and high school programs,” said Morris, who is also the Panther athletic director. “I’d say about 90 percent of our school golfers have come up through our summer program.”
Morris said the program has been all about teaching youngsters about the finer points of the game.
And on blistering hot days like Tuesday, it’s also about health precautions.
“We advise all of our golfers to bring water bottles,” said Morris. “Weather like this is our ‘golf two-a-days’ and we provide water to keep everybody hydrated.
“We take a break after nine holes (for the Tour group) and we have marshals on the course to keep an eye on everybody.”
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