Did you build this place all by yourself?
How do you cut the grass so short?
Did you ever play in a tournament when you were good at golf, which I’m sure you still are?
Kids ask the tough questions. Especially when a golf course owner/architect is their target. And most certainly when that owner/architect happens to be Jerry Rich, who operates Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove – a Top 100-rated layout (of more than 20,000 courses) in the United States.
The Fox Valley Park District’s MVP Sports campers on Wednesday were treated to a morning of competitive golf, followed by lunch, at the second round of the 102nd Western Junior, which attracts the top junior players from more than 40 states and internationally each year. Former junior participants in this tournament include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler, to name a few.
Both the FVPD and Rich Harvest Farms, through its Kids Golf Foundation of Illinois, are committed to bringing the sport of golf into the lives of children and providing them with opportunities for personal growth and career enhancement.
The 30+ MVP campers assembled behind the 18th green and politely clapped when the players dropped in their putts.
“It’s really cool to have an opportunity to be at a place like this,” Max Goheen, a 13-year-old camper, said while standing on the lush, plush turf and surveying the meticulously-groomed landscape and majestic oaks that adorn Rich Harvest.
Just before lunch, Rich gathered the kids on an adjacent patio, and spoke of the personal impact golf has had on his life, beginning at age 6.
“You’re going to play a lot of sports growing up, so go ahead and enjoy them all,” Rich, who looks and functions years younger than his actual age of 80, told the kids. “But there’s really only one sport that you can play your entire life – and that’s golf.”
With the influx of young, superstar players on today’s PGA and LPGA tours, Brian Hilko believes golf rests in capable hands – and today’s youth have taken notice.
“I think about when I was young,” said Hilko, the director of golf at Orchard Valley Golf Course. “When I watched the PGA TOUR, it felt like a bunch of old guys walking around in pleated pants. I couldn’t relate to any of the players, I didn’t have much of a connection until Tiger came up. Now you look and there’s so many guys like that, young bombers wearing flashy clothes. Kids today can relate to that.”
Of course, Tiger didn’t become Tiger by watching tournaments on TV, nor did any of the current Western Junior players develop their talents by reading books or watching instructional videos. But therein lies the stigma, the “expensive and old, that’s what golf is,” that Hilko and so many others in his profession try to eliminate.
Hilko pointed to the Youth on Course program, of which Orchard Valley is one of more than 1,200 participating facilities across the country. Youth on Course provides juniors with access to life-changing opportunities through golf. Kids can play at Orchard Valley for just $4 after 10 a.m. on weekdays and after 12 p.m. on weekends. To better learn and hone their skills, young beginners can hit balls on the practice range for $7 anytime. Hilko noted that he and his staff can also help provide equipment for kids and families in need.
“My biggest thing is we want to make the initial investment as small as possible, so we just try it out and go out there and have some fun on the range,” Hilko said. “There are a lot of inexpensive ways to make golf work.
“In today’s game, the equipment is so much better, it’s lighter for the kids to use. Everywhere, it’s about making the game more approachable, more fun. There are so many things in today’s world that keep kids from going outside. A golf course is a giant playground and we want them to feel that way.”
The Fox Valley Park District is holding Junior Golf Camps July 22-26 at Eola Community Center and August 12-16 at Vaughan Athletic Center. For more information, visit www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org or call 630-897-0516. For more information about the youth golf program at Orchard Valley, visit www.orchardvalleygolf.com or call 630-907-0500.