These days, does this sound like Nirvana, or what?
Thirty boys and girls, ages 7 to 13, are learning and competing every Friday and Saturday in one of the most scenic spots in Bedford, in an outdoor social-distancing environment.
The local branch of the national PGA Jr. League program is flourishing like never before.
Jim Tobin, the professional at the Patriot golf course on the grounds of the Veterans Administration hospital on Springs Road, has coordinated the Bedford league for the past six years. And in 2020, with the pandemic eradicating or changing almost all team sports, demand has skyrocketed.
“We started much later than usual,” Tobin said, because of measures taken in response to Covid-19. The start date was pushed back from May 1 to July 1, but because of demand, and the need for children to have opportunities to be active outdoors, the PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) added an additional fall session. It will continue until early November.
“This was huge,” Tobin said. In the summer “I had 30 kids on two teams with a waiting list. When registration opened for the fall, the 30 slots filled up in less than a day.
The protocols on the course are consistent with safety, Tobin said, including social distancing. All of the coaches wear masks; it’s optional for the participants but most choose to wear them, he said. “We set the driving range up so that everybody has their own hitting bays, with six feet of separation.”
Junior League golf took much of its format from Little League baseball, including uniforms, Tobin said. “The idea many years ago was to get more kids exposed to golf. It has worked very well over the years as far as kids embracing and participating in the program”
“We encourage young people who haven’t played to join in” Tobin continued. “It’s a ‘scramble’ format, so there’s no pressure on any of the kids. They have partners every time.” The “scramble” arrangement involves teams of two or more, in which everyone plays from the spot of the best shot.
“There’s lots of mentoring, a lot of social interaction, with older kids paired up with younger kids,” the director noted. “That does a lot to help the kids develop.” He added that the program has served as a feeder system for the high school golf team.
Parents can watch but under the rules, they can’t be involved, he emphasized.
The group practices every Friday, followed by matches on Saturday. Until this year the contests were with programs from neighboring golf courses, but this year everything is intramural.
Tobin, a PGA member since 1976 and a past president of the New England PGA, came to Patriot six years ago and launched the Jr. League during his second year. The youth program is “the best thing I’ve ever seen the PGA do,” he asserted.
A couple of years after he retired after a 30-year career as the golf professional at Bellevue Golf Club in Melrose, the opportunity arose to work with veterans at Patriot, which is owned by the U.S. Air Force and has a rehabilitation and recreation relationship with the adjacent hospital. In recent years the nine-hole course opened to the public.
Tobin also directs the PGA’s First Tee program at Boston’s municipal golf course in Franklin Park. First Tee is a national initiative started than 20 years ago to make golf accessible to all young people and building character strengths through golf’s inherent values and skills. W
Working with the office of the mayor and the Massachusetts Golf Association, Tobin said each year First Tee attracts as many as 1,300 participants four days a week through July and August (this year was about half that, as the virus limited capacity).
A network of coaches and volunteers not only teaches young people about golf but also conveys a message that “golf and life core values are so similar,” Tobin said, including perseverance, responsibility, respect, and courtesy.
Tobin, 70, said he got started in golf around age 12 at the municipal course in Lynn. “My father was a policeman in Lynn. He used to take me with him there in the evening and I started caddying,” he recounted.
Indeed, caddying was his ticket to the game. Back in the early 60s, a kid could make $5 caddying all weekend (“in those days they didn’t have golf carts”) and then play every weekday on the course, where a junior membership was $20 a year.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763
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