LITTLE TIPS FOR THE LITTLE ONES

Our region’s mild summer climate (except for this summer?) is favorable for juniors because it allows them to go full throttle all day long. Another big plus is that our courses are not crowded and thus more kid-friendly. The best way to prepare juniors for the big courses is to start with little ones. As they progress there are many options for tournament golf and maybe even college golf.

Hidden Oaks and Twin Lakes are both nine-hole par-3 courses within a short drive from Montecito. Hidden Oaks (967-3493), designed by legendary short game expert Billy Casper, is a pleasant walk near the More Mesa area. Green fees are reasonable and a monthly pass can also be purchased. Twin Lakes (964-1414) is the local home of The First Tee, an organization sponsored by the USGA to introduce golf to youngsters of all economic backgrounds. Twin Lakes has a driving range, putting and chipping area.

While distances prescribed by par-3 courses work for youngsters, it’s also possible to adjust regular length courses to fit kid golfers. One way is to assign a personal par to each hole. In short, figure out how many shots the little one needs to reach the green and then add two putts, or more, to assign a par. Rudy Duran taught Tiger Woods as a youngster and came up with the personal par idea. His book “In Every Kid Lurks a Tiger” is a good read for parents of aspiring junior players.

Another way is to shorten your home course to fit the kid’s game. In the Southeast where junior golf is hugely popular many courses have tee boxes way up the fairway. A hole that plays 400 yards from the championship tees will be set at maybe 280 yards or so. As the kids grow they can advance to the ladies tees and then the regular tees. Tee Time Golf Center in Carpinteria (566-9948) is the best practice center in our area and is in excellent shape. Tee Time also has a large chipping, pitching and bunker area and it has a putting green. I would advise going to the range as many times as you play.

Santa Barbara has its own junior golf association and information is available at any course. It hosts 13 events each summer starting at the end of June through August. Fourteen-year-old Shane Lebow, a Montecito resident headed to Santa Barbara High School this fall, started in these events and has continued to progress. He took third in an American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) event in Mexico and recently qualified for the Nike Junior All Star Championships to be played at Langdon Farms in Oregon later this summer. His personal best is a 68, which he shot at Balboa in the LA City Junior Championship. Nile Platt of Montecito also qualified for the Nike event. Other Santa Barbara standouts include Joey Gould and Albert Corral. Johnny Henno is the one to beat in the Santa Ynez Valley area.

College golf is dominated by the long ball these days, but that doesn’t mean you have to be 6’ 4” to go the distance. Former UCSB basketball coach Jerry Pimm has a grandson who proves this. Dustin Pimm is 5’ 9” and weighs 145 pounds, yet he’s one of the longest hitters in collegiate golf. At the University of Utah, he has built quite a record despite what many would call a small frame. Jerry tells me that Dustin can fly the ball 280-290 yards in the air.

Collegiate golfers now have a strenuous workout schedule with heavy workouts at least three times a week. Local junior golf standout Sean Bowman worked with trainers at UCSB when he was a redshirt freshman. Sean took a redshirt so he could get ahead in units and graduate on time, which can often be difficult for college golfers who play a full schedule of events. Away tournaments take three days and occur almost weekly. Bowman did not play AJGA events and played mostly in the Southern California Junior Golf Association events and many city championships. Last summer, he and his partner won the Santa Barbara Classic last summer against a tough field. Another local, Kevin Larsen, was a big name in junior golf a few years ago and he’s still playing well at Georgia Tech. He recently made it to the semifinals in the USGA Publinx Championship.

There are several golf companies who specialize in junior golf equipment – US Kids and La Jolla Golf are the best known. Acculength Golf (www.acculength.com) has patented a junior club to which you can add length as the youngster grows. Whether your youngster gets serious or not they will always have fond memories of learning the game on the scenic fairways of the Santa Barbara area and will be a golf partner of yours for life.