PGA Junior League … shooting for ‘fun’ experience
A group of young golfers paused momentarily when they responded to a photographer’s question on the putting green at the Carson Valley Golf Course.
So, what was the nickname of their PGA Junior League Golf program team? They had, the photographer pointed out, recently played a match against their rivals, the Genoa Lakes Rattlers.
Beau Server, the head pro at Carson Valley, couldn’t help but laugh as he watched the response of the players he directs in a program for boys and girls up to 13 years of age.
“I have a blast,” Server said. “Juniors is my favorite part of the industry, whether it’s PGA Junior League, junior clinics or individual junior lessons. There’s nothing like a kid hitting a golf ball well for the first time in their life and they’re genuinely happy and genuinely surprised that they did it.”
Chris Detsch, head pro at The Ranch Course at Genoa Lakes, is directing a team of 12 boys and girls for the Rattlers in their first season with the nationwide PGA program. Server has 16 players in his first year with a team that Rob Harbottle directed through four seasons. Both of the local pros have previous experience with the program, Detsch when he was at Hidden Valley Country Club in Reno and Server at Thunder Canyon (now Toiyabe Golf Club) in Washoe Valley.
Detsch added one goal is to expand membership so more teams in the Carson Valley, Lake Tahoe and Carson City area are involved, which would allow for the creation of a new league. The two Valley teams currently play in one of two Reno leagues.
“It’s been received really well,” Detsch said. “It’s been a lot of fun having the kids out and getting some new and young faces interested in golf … and future players.”
PGA Junior League combines individual and team skills during match play — a two-person scramble format over nine holes — with four groups on the course. Two players work together to compete for three flags. One point is available for every three holes — and the team that brings in the majority of 12 points emerges as the winner.
Server, a 2001 Carson High School graduate, spoke of how the program offers a good blend of competition with having fun.
“It’s phenomenal, a super friendly event,” Server said. “It’s competitive in nature, but it’s a two-person scramble format, so if a kid hits a bad shot, his teammate can pick him up. Or he can hit a bad shot and then they have to figure out what to do together, so it’s a very fun format in that regard.”
Each team can field a lineup from eight to 12 players during any given match. Detsch pointed out that groups of two or three players can play together in a match, however, only two can play at the same time during any given three-hole stretch. Detsch views the team format as a positive for young players.
“Having a team atmosphere for golf takes the anxiety of being by themselves out of it because they always have a partner,” he said. “The neat part about it, I can pair up three players per match. That means you can substitute and get more people in; so there’s a nice rotation (substitutions for each flag). You have two playing, and the third is the cheerleader, the one raking putts or grabbing the balls or helping out.”
That player rotation enables more players to get involved in a match.
“It doesn’t mean you’re out of the game, it doesn’t mean you’re not a part of the team,” Server said about rotating players. “I still want you helping your teammates read putts, talking over shots, helping advise on which ball to take. I always try to pair someone who is a little bit more knowledgeable about the rules of the game or the way to handle etiquette. That way they’re able to give friendly reminders (to help teammates).”
The program’s philosophy is to allow the kids play their own game and make their own decisions.
“They’re learning teamwork, they’re learning how to communicate with each other. They’re learning that it’s not always their ball that was the best ball. It usually takes the kids one or two go-rounds to physically get out there and not be like, ‘Let’s take my ball,’ because it’s not always the best ball. So it’s definitely teaching them to compromise, it’s teaching them etiquette, communication. I don’t put up with any attitudes whatsoever, so they need to come here and be as chipper as I am and I think overall it helps them grow as a human being.”
Having fun is important, both in competition and practice, Detsch explained.
“We’re trying to create a unique environment for the golfers,” he said. “I do different games at practices, more than have them just stand there and pound balls. I create games that are team oriented where they don’t even realize they are learning. We played a game yesterday called cow pasture pool where you play billiards on the putting green, and it’s all about distance control and learning how to chip into a specific target. And it’s all about having fun.”
As in other sports, PGA Junior League players wear numbered jerseys during their matches. The Genoa Ranch Rattlers team colors feature yellow jerseys with Navy bottoms.
“They look sharp,” Detsch said, smiling.
The season continues through the end of July, followed by all-star play between leagues that begins the first week of August.
Oh, and as it turns out, the Carson Valley team didn’t have a nickname when the question came up during the photo session.
“The photographer said, ‘So what’s your team name? Genoa’s calling themselves the Rattlers,” Server recalled with a laugh. “I have a kid on my team who wants to be a sports announcer, he’s a quick witted 11-year-old, Gil Schmidt, and he goes, ‘Then we need to be called the Mongooses because mongooses kill rattlesnakes.’ I thought it was pretty comical … so we ended up naming ourselves the Carson Valley Sharks.”
Having fun and enjoying the sport, after all, are the primary goals.
“We’re out here to have fun, to teach the game of golf and to grow the game of golf,” Server said. “And hopefully this is something these kids will do the rest of their lives.”