Ethan Hernandez watches as his chip shot from a few feet off the practice green rolls into the hole. It’s a shot even the most experienced golfer would envy.
But Ethan is not that experienced. At age 11, he’s only been playing golf regularly since he was 8 years old.
Surprisingly, Ethan does not celebrate. He simply lines up his next shot.
That’s part of the discipline instilled in him and his teammates who participate in the PGA Junior League at Rolling Hills Country Club in Arlington. He does, however, smile and get a few congratulations from teammates. It’s all about learning and having fun.
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They learn etiquette, sportsmanship; they become better golfers.
Josh Havard, director of instruction at Rolling Hills Country Club in Arlington
“They learn etiquette, sportsmanship; they become better golfers,” said Josh Havard, director of instruction at the club. “And they really get to enjoy themselves while competing and learning.”
The PGA Junior League expanded to Rolling Hills and a few other area courses this summer to create a new league. Also participating with Rolling Hills are Texas Star Golf Course in Euless, Prairie Lakes Golf Course in Grand Prairie and Grapevine Golf Course in Grapevine.
Rolling Hills has two teams with a total of 24 players. The other three courses have one team each with a total of 30 players. Players do not have to be a member of the course to participate.
The league is for players age 13 and under. At Rolling Hills, Havard has players ages 5 to 12.
“The minimum age is supposed to be 7, but they’re flexible on that,” Havard said. “They’re very firm on the 13 age, though, because of the growth of the program.”
A recent press release from the PGA said about 30,000 youths participated on 2,500 courses in 2015, an increase of nearly 25 percent since 2013.
In the program, youngsters team up in pairs to play a scramble format. That is, wherever the best shot out of the two lands, that is where they will each take their next shot.
I like how he’s getting lessons, playing, meeting new friends, and he actually goes to other courses to compete.
Pam Derden, whose 11-year-old son Dilynn participates
“I like how he’s getting lessons, playing, meeting new friends, and he actually goes to other courses to compete,” said Pam Derden, whose 11-year-old son Dilynn participates.
“He’s learning, and so am I — I learned to keep score,” she added with a chuckle.
Matches are played on Tuesday and Sunday, rotating among the four courses. Competition runs through July 26, after which an all-star team will be selected from the five teams.
“In the past, when kids wanted to learn, the only options were going with their parents or summer camp, where they get dropped off, spend three to five hours whacking golf balls and they’re done,” Havard said. “We can take absolute beginners and they can contribute to their team.
“My daughter is a prime example. She used to go play with me and my buddies on Sunday mornings, but she got tired of it. She couldn’t relate. Once I started the league, she got interested again.”
Kayleigh, his 12-year-old daughter, confirmed those comments.
“I have learned so much I never knew before,” she said. “When I see other kids progress, I want to progress too.”
Players are paired by ability. “This is not about winning and losing as much as it is about having fun, building confidence and at the end of the day feeling good about themselves and their team,” Havard said.
Bill Hoelscher, whose son Brett, 11, plays, said the youngster is improving in more than just golf. “His skills are getting better, and not just his golf game — his communication skills, working with teammates to figure out the best shot,” Hoelscher said. “Being a good sport is something he’ll use in life. What they’re learning now, those are life lessons.”
Havard said membership throughout the league is about 50-50 boys and girls.
Natalie Dickey has a son, 9-year-old James, who plays along with her 12-year-old daughter Kirstyn. Both started playing golf in February.
“Both of my kids can do the same thing together, and that is fantastic,” she said. “In basketball they’d be in different leagues. Same for baseball and softball.
“And they’re working together. James is very analytical. One day Josh got a level out to help show him how to read a green. Then James started showing Kirstyn. It was great to see.”
Alex South, 7, is playing for the first time. She became interested after going with her dad to play and seeing all the clubs in his bag.
And now she has her own favorite club.
“I like the full swing of the driver,” she said shyly. “I like hitting it far.”
Of course, far is a relative term in the league. Obviously, Alex is not going to hit it as far as a 12-year-old, but the goal is for each to feel a sense of accomplishment.
“The better kids feel about themselves, the more they’re going to want to keep doing something,” Havard said.
Cost to participate in the PGA Junior League is $250, Havard said. And if a child isn’t sure the sport is for them, he has clubs they can rent until they decide.
“Plus, I have a deal with U.S. Kids Clubs, so we can get them a good set of clubs for a good price when they do decide the game is for them,” he said. “We’ll get them set up, don’t worry about that. We’re not going to let something like that get in the way of playing this great game.”
Clearly, the youngsters are having a great time, and so is Havard. As one youth passes by, they exchange high-fives.
“Good luck, buddy,” Havard said as the youngster told him he was going to work on his putts.
“I played a round with my pappy [grandfather] once, and it was fun,” said James Dickey. “And now here I am, and I’m having a great time, and I love working with Josh.
“My favorite thing Josh has taught us is using our fingers to line up the ball and read the green.”
I want to play this game until the day I die.
Ethan Hernandez, 11
Now done with working on his chipping, Ethan said he looks forward to the next match. While he loves the competition, he also looks forward to seeing his friends from other courses.
“My best friend in golf, I met him here,” Ethan said. “I love the fact that I get to meet new people.
“I want to play this game until the day I die.”
What to know
PGA Junior Golf comes to Arlington area:
- Local course: Rolling Hills Country Club
- Instructor: Josh Havard
- Teams: Two, Blue and Red
- Players: 24 (12 on each team)
- Ages: 13 and under.
- Matches: Tuesday and Sunday at Rolling Hills, Texas Star in Euless, Prairie Lakes in Grand Prairie and Grapevine Golf Course.
- Cost: $250, clubs can be rented until a player decides to continue in the program and purchase their own.
- Membership: Players do not have to be a member of the club to participate in the league.
- Contact: 817-274-1072