Plum Borough, Pa. – Chris Kaminski remembers vividly the excitement he had 16 years ago when his father told him he was going to spend a day at the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club.
“I couldn’t wait because I knew who I was going to see and I was going to Oakmont!” said Kaminski Monday morning at a clinic for junior golfers at Oakmont East Golf Course, which is adjacent to the world-renowned layout that hosts the 65th U.S. Women’s Open this week.
Instead of wide-eyed spectator, Kaminski was at the clinic as the program director for the Penn Hills YMCA in a suburb of Pittsburgh. He brought 15 summer campers with him, as did Sarah Heider, who holds the same position at the East Suburban YMCA in Plum.
They were among the approximately 300 youths who took part in the clinic, co-hosted by LPGA Tour professionals Brittany Lincicome, Meredith Duncan and Pittsburgh area amateur great, Carol Semple Thompson, a seven-time USGA champion. Kaminski laughed when asked to characterize the interest level of his campers when he told them about the trip.
“They wanted to know what we were going to do there,” Kaminski said. “When I told them about Oakmont and the Women’s Open, one of the kids said, ‘Are we just going to walk around?’ Once they got to the interactive, hands-on part, they loved it.”
Heider said she initially sweetened the pot with her campers. “I told them we’d spend the morning at the golf course and then go to the pool in the afternoon.”
Clinics like Monday’s, where youths from all walks of life get to hit balls on a practice range, putt on a real green and learn the finesse of chips shots, are not only a great public service for the game, but a critical component of women’s golf down the road.
The United States Golf Association has long pushed the notion of “growing the game” and that includes being part of clinics like this all over the United States. The LPGA stars have been flying that banner as well, which is why a popular player like Lincicome does a minimum of 10 clinics like this every year.
“Anytime you get kids involved, maybe they had never played golf before, to just expose them to the game, I’m all for that,” said Lincicome, one of the LPGA’s longest hitters and winner of the 2009 Kraft Nabisco Championship. “I’m on the board of The First Tee [chapter] in the area I live in Florida and it’s exciting for me to see kids playing who maybe couldn’t afford it, but get to see what it’s all about.”
The young participants were all given hats, a chance to try the three areas of skill as well as getting autographs and pictures from Lincicome and Duncan, the 2001 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion. A dozen club professionals from the Tri-State Section of the PGA of America also provided instruction and encouragement to the youths.
The many first-timers at the clinic were joined by juniors like 12-year-old Paige Rumble, who last year spent the week at the Women’s Open at Saucon Valley Country Club across the state in Bethlehem. The 2009 event was about 15 minutes from her home and as soon as it was over, she called her grandfather, who lives in the Pittsburgh area.
“Can I come stay at your house for a week so I can go to the Open?” she asked. As you’d expect, she got an enthusiastic “yes” and will be at Oakmont every day this week.
Duncan was a member of the 2002 USA Curtis Cup Team that posted a spectacular win over Great Britain & Ireland on a 27-foot putt by Semple Thompson at Fox Chapel Golf Club, about eight miles from Oakmont.
She’s a big believer in clinics like Mondays and the potential they can have on juniors.
“We have to get kids involved, get them excited, turn them into fans,” she said. “Especially for girls, it’s fun to find friends who also play golf. But that’s not always easy. This is the future of American golf.”
The 2010 Women’s Open continues being kid-friendly all week. Exhibitions featuring Pittsburgh sports stars – including the legendary Arnold Palmer – are planned for Tuesday and Wednesday.
Children 17 and under are admitted free with a ticketed adult. The front row seats of all grandstands on the course are reserved for kids and each ticketed adult can bring up to nine kids in for free.
Mike Dudurich is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.