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Wauseon ready to join youth golf program


Wauseon Parks and Recreation Director Neil Graf is one of 15 community representatives nationwide who will meet to set up a golf program to appeal to youths for recreation.


WAUSEON - Look out Tiger Woods, a few more golf dynamos could be on their way.

At least that's the goal of a new program being developed nationally to make golf as widespread and as popular as little league baseball.

Wauseon Parks and Recreation Director Neal Graf is one of about 15 community coordinators nationwide who will meet in January to organize the program. The plan is to start it in Wauseon, he said.

"It's the Tiger Woods syndrome," he said, referring to the hugely popular pro who dominates the sport. "It really has tuned a lot of kids into golf."

The local parks department has offered an introductory golf program for the last decade. But "Hook A Kid On Golf", although successful, is expensive and limiting, Mr. Graf said.

Only those youngsters who have never played before and don't have their own clubs can join the program. And Mr. Graf looks for sponsors to help offset the $125 per child costs.

But once the students graduate, there are few recreational golf opportunities available until the youths are old enough to try out for the department's competitive junior high golf team.

"I'd really like to see golf grow in the area," Mr. Graf said. "It has quite a bit in the past 10 years that we've had the Hook A Kid On Golf program but we need to develop something to link that introductory course to the junior high program."

That's where the National Alliance for Youth Sports comes in. The national nonprofit organization based in West Palm Beach, Fla., was founded in 1981 as a way to improve nonschool sports for more than 20 million youth participants.

The alliance focuses on four areas, including coaches' training, parents' training, research and development, and youth development.

It is through the youth development division that Hook A Kid On Golf was born, said Noel Mckenzie, national program director. And the organization wants to take it a step further by expanding its Challenge Golf League, she said.

Challenge Golf League was developed in 1996 because of the growing interest in golf. Now the group wishes to model the league after other successful sports organizations such as American Youth Soccer Organization and Little League baseball, Ms. Mckenzie said.

"We're trying to bring golf as a recreational sport to kids," she said. "There's been a lot of focus on introductory clinics and a lot of opportunities for competitive expensive tournaments but there has really been a big gap between them."

Mike Marshall, Wauseon High School golf coach, said he's seen interest in golf expand in his own school.

And with an intermediate program on tap, his high school program will only get better, he said.

"When we first got our parks and recreation junior high program started, we had about six guys interested," said Mr. Marshall, who helps coach the recreational league with Mr. Graf during the summer. "Last year we had 24 kids come out and we were only able to take 12.

"Golf is a really popular sport," he added. "I think a program like the one they are proposing will really take off."

Mr. Graf hopes so. He'll be working with other coordinators at a meeting Jan. 12-13 to establish a golf league that is fun, involves parents, and even involve communities through team sponsorships.

"The number of kids involved has exploded," he said. "And once we get it set up here, we hope to get other communities involve and eventually create a network so that our teams can travel."

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