CG youth golf grows at summer program

The youth golfers and coaches of the Cottage Grove Summer Junior Golf Program. PHOTO C/O CLAYTON NORDQUIST

Golf is a game that can test the patience of even the most tranquil people, but the scene at Middlefield Golf Course last Wednesday was all fun and smiles.

The Cottage Grove Summer Golf program - which has been operating for nearly 20 years and allows children ages 8-14 a chance to be introduced to and educated in the game - wrapped up on August 14 with it’s annual Cottage Grove Junior Golf Tournament.

Even though the six-week course ended with a friendly competition, program leader Clayton Nordquist says that the program is about much more than winning.

“The biggest thing about this program is to really get them comfortable swinging a golf club, get them comfortable going around the course, and it’s a great intro.

“First, we kinda go over the fundamentals, the grips … After that, we get them out on the course as much as possible,” Nordquist continued. “When I was in high school, that’s how I learned how to play … you learn to play the game out on the course.”

And Nordquist certainly learned how to play the game. A Cottage Grove native, he played golf at Cottage Grove High School and fell in love with the sport. After graduating in 2007, he knew he wanted to pursue a long-term career in the industry.

He attended the Golf Academy of America in Chandler, Arizona where he received a degree in golf course complex management with a specialty in advanced teaching. With two years of experience under his belt as an assistant golf professional at Kokopelli Golf Club in Gilbert, Ariz., Nordquist decided it was time to return home.

“I mean, it was a blast out there, but I missed home a lot. So then I came back, and helping out with youth golf is something that I’d always done since high school.”

Now, Nordquist has partnered with Cottage Grove High School girls’ golf coach Jennifer Husk - who also has professional teaching experience - to build the summer golf program.

Golf, like most sports, has experienced a gender imbalance throughout most of history, but as with the high school program, Husk is using her experience and talents to remedy the situation.

“She’s bringing in a lot of girls and she’s bringing in a lot of prospective players for high school too. So her and I are really kinda looking to start middle school clubs and start a gateway from here to high school,” Nordquist said. “So then maybe we can start putting Cottage Grove on the map for golf. It’d be a really cool thing, because we’ve got some really valuable instructors.”

It’s this access, to both golf as a sport and to experienced local teachers, that has made the summer program a growing success. Golf can be prohibitively expensive at times; quality clubs, bags and other accessories often do not come cheaply, to say nothing of driving range tokens and greens fees. However, for this program, Middlefield golf course allows free use of the course to the kids, albeit with one small caveat.

“We have to let the regulars play through, so we teach the kids etiquette out here when we sometimes have to hold back to let people pass,” said Nordquist as he emphasized all the things beyond the sport itself the kids can learn while out on the course.

“The biggest thing for me with golf, and that’s what I’ve noticed with the kids: it teaches them honesty, integrity, it teaches them values. And it teaches them all these things through a game … that’s the real fun thing, it’s more about the values it teaches kids and it’s something they can do forever too.”

On the final day, the kids were paired up with a parent, relative or other adult to compete in a Chapman-style tournament. The Chapman system is a format that works well with younger, inexperienced golfers as it generally works by pairing one weaker golfer with a stronger one. Both members hit a tee shot, but switch balls for the second shot. From there, they alternate shots into the hole. But again, finishing atop the leaderboard isn’t the primary focus of Nordquist’s camp.

“If they’re not having fun out there, they’re not taking anything in, honestly, and usually at the end of the day when we’re walking off the course, I ask them, ‘what’d you learn today?’, and one of them will tell me one thing they learned. As long as they take away that one thing, it makes it memorable, it makes it worthwhile.”

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