Seven-year old Austin Duer looks like a lot of other novice golfers as he swings away on the driving range at the Dana Rader Golf School.
His footing is inconsistent, he’s not sure about his club selection and the direction of his drives has the randomness of a lottery.
Instructor Molly Tullar believes she has found a teachable moment.
“We’re going to back up from the ball and be more like Rickie Fowler,” Tullar explains to Austin.
“Who’s Rickie Fowler?” he asks.
“Have you ever heard of Tiger Woods?” Tullar asks.
“No,” says Austin.
Some moments are more teachable than others.
But that’s a typical hour-long session at the local golf school’s Pee Wee clinic for 5- to 8-year-olds.
Held at the Dana Rader Gold School’s location at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, the weekly Pee Wee clinics are one component of the school’s Junior Academy that reaches youths as old as 17.
More comprehensive four-day camps also are available for the Pee Wee age group.
“We don’t want them just doing golf,” said Tullar, the school’s director of Junior Golf. “We try to break it into short periods of time, suitable to their attention span. Learning the fundamentals, but doing it where they are still having fun.”
On a recent Saturday, Tullar and fellow instructor Andrew Kiger split the class of 10 students, taking them through putting, chipping and driving fundamentals.
Starting with the grip, Tullar promises her five students they one day will “hit it farther than your dad.”
That is much to the delight of all the fathers sitting or standing nearby. Ballantyne resident Tom Scofield, a golfing regular, registered his 5-year-old daughter Chloe for the hour-long session.
“If she can learn the basics at this young age … and know them for as long as she wants to play, or even if she doesn’t want to play, she can get a good foundation,” Scofield said. “That’s basically what I’m after.”
Tullar started her group with a chipping drill in which the children were instructed to toss a golf ball underhanded toward a practice green while they bent over to simulate a golf swing. Austin, who lives in Providence Springs, had his shining moment of the clinic when one of his throws rolled about 50 feet and dropped into the cup at hole No. 3.
A hole-in-one, if you will.
Some of the players had their own starter-set equipment, like 5-year-old Ardrey Chase resident Katie Gravender, who was using the clubs handed down to her from 8-year-old brother Nate, a veteran of the Pee Wee clinics.
Drawing more attention were Zoe Burke’s rainbow-colored sneakers, which lit up when she jumped up and down during the roll-the-ball putting drill.
Zoe, a month from her fifth birthday, and 8-year-old brother Matthew were attending the clinic for the first time. Matthew was clearly the clinic’s best player off the tee, getting good wood on the ball and pushing most of his left-handed drives directly in front of him.
An aspiring ice-hockey player, Matthew told his father he modeled his first several shots after his slap shot. Tullar helped him correct that defect, showing him the advantage of turning up the sole of his left shoe on his follow-through.
The Burkes had extra incentive to improve their golf games in a short period: the family soon is headed to Pennsylvania for a golf outing to help celebrate their grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary and their grandfather’s 80th birthday.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at email@example.com.
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