With that in mind, the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program has spent the last 20 years introducing girls ages 7 to 17 to golf. It also has helped many to dream beyond simply hitting balls for entertainment.
For example, three young women who came through the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program in Daytona Beach, Fla., not only took advantage of the learning opportunities in golf when they were juniors, but also used what they learned to springboard their respective career pursuits in the game.
Ashleigh Anderson, 23, of Orlando, Fla., earned a scholarship to play college golf at Florida State University and now works as the Member Services Coordinator of the LPGA's Teaching and Club Professionals. Jennifer Labrie, 22, of Ft. Myers, Fla., is pursuing a degree in professional golf management at Florida Gulf Coast University and has worked as a Program Director of The First Tee program at Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs, Mich. And Vicky Hurst, 19, of Melbourne, Fla., was the 2008 Player of the Year on the LPGA's Duramed FUTURES Tour with five professional wins and is now a rookie on the 2009 LPGA Tour.
How did the program benefit each of these former participants of the Daytona Beach Girls Golf program?
"I started playing kind of late, so I felt more comfortable in an environment with other girls," said Labrie. "I liked the way they divided us into skill levels. We got experience on the course, but we got instruction before we went out and tried to play."
The program was Labrie's first exposure to golf and it allowed her confidence to grow under careful direction by Daytona Beach site director, Alexis Sieg.
"Girls in the program see other girls just like them and they feel comfortable and accepted," said Sieg. "They all come to learn golf, but they also learn more about the game and even see golf as a career possibility as they learn about such things as turf management, merchandising and the food and beverage service at a golf course."
When she first came to the program, Labrie admits she didn't know how to check in at a golf course or how to get range balls to practice.
"When I left the program, I wasn't intimidated about going to a course and I wasn't afraid to practice," said Labrie, who will complete her golf management studies in December 2009. "I had such a great experience there that I want to be a mentor to kids, just like they were to me."
Anderson was a member of the program between the ages of 13-16. Unlike Labrie, she was already playing golf, but she drove to Daytona Beach on the weekends to get lessons from professionals and to meet other girls who played.
"We went to LPGA International and it was a lot of fun," said Anderson. "We did drills and training with teaching professionals and at one of the events, we met Annika Sorenstam. We even had an event at the beach called ‘surf and turf,' where we worked on golf skills and then learned how to surf with professional surfers."
Anderson was already hoping to earn a college golf scholarship, so her participation in the program fueled a desire to learn more and become a stronger player. With other girls in the program, she could grow in the game alongside her friends.
By the time Hurst arrived in the program around age 12 or 13, she was already tackling LPGA International's three practice holes and working on different golf shots. It wasn't the drills that brought her to the program; it was the fact that other girls also were there to enjoy golf.
"It helps you really love golf and get your game started with the other girls there," said Hurst, who is one of the top young Americans on the 2009 LPGA Tour. "When you're young and still developing, it's so important to be involved in things. When you get older, you look back and still remember the friends you made."
All three women mentioned role models, affordable instruction and camaraderie as key elements of their participation, but in retrospect, the three likely were receiving something they didn't realize at the time.
"If you stay in it, you're building a future for yourself," added Anderson. "Vicky, Jennifer and I have all been able to make careers out of golf."
-Lisa D. Mickey