BEHIND THE SCENES
LPGA-USGA Program Inspires ‘Girl Power’ Across U.S. July 28, 2016 | FAR HILLS, N.J. By David Chmiel, USGA

The LPGA USGA Girls Golf Academy at Walnut Grove of The Cliffs gave girls from across the U.S. the chance to play and learn together. (USGA/Jason E. Miczek)

It’s a cross-country journey to get more girls into golf, and one important program has been in the express lane. 

Since 2010, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, which specializes in providing a “girl-friendly” environment for juniors aged 6-17 to learn and play the game of golf, has grown from 5,000 participants to an estimated 50,000 spread across 300 communities in 46 states. Founded in 1989 by the highly regarded Arizona-based golf instructor Sandy LaBauve, today the program is administered through a partnership between the LPGA Foundation and the USGA. This year clinics were held at the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open as well as five events on the LPGA Tour schedule.

“Golf can be hard, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun,” said Kiernan Schindler, director of the LPGA Foundation.   

Indeed, the program uses fun golf-skills contests – playing a golf version of tic-tac-toe on the putting green and chipping into the mouths of blow-up creatures (a shark named Larry and a hippopotamus named Mia, to name two). There are also arts and crafts, limbo contests, dance parties and other activities that drive a program that embraces the alliterative themes that help young girls develop life skills: Exercise, Enrich, Energize, Empower and Engage. 

“We are dedicated to finding new ways to capture the joy of the game for girls,” added Schindler. “We want to reach these girls when they are ready…we want to tell girls that it’s never too soon to start playing golf and that there are many ways to connect with golf. Thanks to the support of the USGA, we have had the chance to reach more girls than ever.”

U.S. Women’s Amateur champions Morgan Pressel (2005) and Amanda Blumenhurst (2008) both received valuable early exposure to the game through LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, but Beth Major, director of community outreach for the USGA, says the program’s success is not solely defined by elite players.

“Getting girls to play is the first step,” says Major. “What we really hope to achieve through Girls Golf is providing the right environment for girls to be exposed to the game. That may well translate into pursuing competitive playing opportunities. But our main objective is to allow girls to develop a passion for the game.

A group of 25 girls (and a pair of boys) got a special treat recently at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J. They took part in a Girls Golf session, picked up a goodie bag filled with golf items and then got out on the course to watch the semifinal matches.

Joe Foley, manager of Rules outreach and programming for the USGA, shares tips on bunker play with the Girls Academy. (USGA/Jason E. Miczek)

“This is pretty special, said Allie Bodemann, the Girls Golf programs coordinator. “The kids get to walk the fairways with the players and get to close to the action. Heck, some of them are the same age as the girls competing in the championship.”

Bodemann, who started playing at the age of five, could also share her experiences with the girls; the former Wake Forest University All-American was a semifinalist in the 2006 U.S. Girls’ Junior. A car accident derailed her dream of playing professionally, but Bodemann says her work with the Girls Golf program is the next best thing.

“I make 15 to 20 trips a year, all to get girls into the game, to have fun with golf,” she said. “When we can get girls out on the course in a social, no-pressure setting, it gets us one step closer to getting them out on the course again. Then we can get them excited about coming back.” 

The Girls Golf program also hosts camps that bring developing players together for extended periods to work on their skills and learn more about the game. Joe Foley, manager of Rules outreach and programming for the USGA, joined Major and representatives from the Girls Golf national office, as well as a team of LPGA teaching professionals, at the fifth annual LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Academy, which brought 45 girls ages 6-13 from all over the country to the Cliffs at Walnut Cove in Arden, N.C.

“It was an inspiring event,” said Foley. “When you get some of the most passionate teachers in women’s golf together with a group of really excited, eager girls, it’s a perfect storm. There was so much energy flowing throughout the day. Then, just when you think you’ve gotten enough from the event, a golf icon like Nancy Lopez shows up to double the excitement.”

Doubling the excitement is the goal for everyone who touches Girls’ Golf. For the team at the USGA and the LPGA Foundation, creating these special experiences that allow kids to engage with the game plays a key role in creating that excitement.

“It’s all about providing the introduction to the game,” said Major. “Whether it’s using our biggest stages, like the U.S. Open or U.S. Women’s Open, or special events like the Academy, our goal is to spark an interest and start to build their relationship with golf, one we know can last for a lifetime.”

David Chmiel is manager of members content for the USGA. Contact him at dchmiel@usga.org.

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