There wasn’t a single awkward pause in the conversation Monday when nearly 100 girls from the region gathered at Westchester Country Club for the WMGA Foundation’s annual Girls to the Tee clinic. It’s a technicolor jolt of adrenaline run by volunteers intent on providing opportunity and instruction to a growing population of girls who are beginning to embrace the game.
Here are six reasons why this event is so important:
1. It’s a start. The free instructional clinic debuted in 2008 and more than a few local standouts got the bug here. Spending a picturesque afternoon among enthusiastic peers with the splendor of Westchester Country Club in the background can be inspirational.
“We really want to spark interest,” WMGA Foundation chair Diane Mock said. “There are so many choices for girls in athletics. Golf is a sport they can play with mom and dad, with brothers and sisters and with best friends.”
2. Golf is almost cool. We have an entire generation of kids who see Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson as true athletes. It helps put golf on the same level as soccer, lacrosse, softball, gymnastics and soccer. Seeing a gaggle of girls all geared up and ready to learn validates the decision to give the game a try.
“It’s more of a sport now,” said Ally Steffen, a rising senior at Byram Hills who first came with friends several years ago and was back volunteering. “How athletic the game has become and how competitive the sport is, that was a turn on.”
3. No boys allowed. A wide majority of the girls learn the game in the company of boys who have a habit of showing off. Not here. The girls are grouped according to ability so nobody gets intimidated, even the beginners. It’s simply a more supportive community.
“Based on my experience here, girls golf is exploding in this area,” said Westchester director of instruction Gary Weir. “This is an important tool for growing the game. It’s not about playing in college and becoming a professional, it’s about helping them play good golf for as long as long as they play.
“A lot them are isolated at their own clubs. They come here and there and get to see how much fun all of these girls are having.”
4. It’s free. There were 17 teaching professionals from local clubs giving up a day off to provide hands-on instruction. Westchester Country Club grants full access to its expansive practice area and putting green, allowing the girls to receive help with full swings, chipping and putting. Of course, the day wouldn’t be complete without snacks and drinks. Golf can be expensive and not everyone in the region belongs to a private club.
“This is really important for the pros, too,” said Apawamis director of instruction Monique Thoresz. “It’s a long, hot season. It’s revitalizing to come here and see the girls. It’s exciting for us. Every year we’ve done this, it’s grown in different ways. At first, some of the girls who came were unsure. Now, they are rocking full bags, pink hats. There’s a spring in their step.
“We need to be growing the game of golf. These are our members in the coming years.”
5. There is a social aspect to golf. A number of the girls have some real ability. Girls to the Tee is a perfect venue for those who have plans to play competitive golf to get acquainted with players who share a passion for the game. Parents can also huddle up and compare notes.
“My daughter, Ava, is so into golf,” said James Minisolo, a Somers resident. “I told her this would be a good place to make some friends. There are so many girls who are getting involved now. Ava has already got her future planned. She wants a scholarship to Alabama. She wants to major in architecture. She wants to play on the LPGA Tour.”
6. In the end, it’s all fun and games. There is no urgency to make all of these girls into high school or collegiate golfers. Maybe a number of the girls come back next summer. Maybe they bring a friend along. Maybe few become regular players somewhere down the road.
“You don’t really see a lot of girls playing golf at my club,” said Kayla Wels, a 9-year-old from White Plains. “I do like this. Golf is fun. It’s kind of relaxing, there’s nobody talking when you play and you have to really concentrate.”