CANANDAIGUA — More young people than usual will likely flock to the area’s golf courses this summer, thanks to St. Mary’s School. In early May, 36 St. Mary’s students traveled to Canandaigua Country Club for the first meeting of the school’s newly formed golf club.
Mike O’Donnell, a volunteer basketball coach at the school, leads the club with Charlie Cross, golf professional at the country club. O’Donnell thought a fair number of students might be interested in joining such a club because golf is so popular right now, he said. The students’ response far exceeded his expectations, however.
“We were thinking 15 or so would join, and we ended up with 36 kids,” O’Donnell said. “Kids just want to get out and play. They love it.”
The club members met at the country club once a week throughout May and the first two weeks of June. Each week the students split up into smaller groups and learn the basics of golf.
“We’re doing mostly driving and putting and chipping. Driving is my favorite part,” said fifth-grader Alec Belmore.
Club members acquire more than just golf skills, O’Donnell said. During the club’s first few meetings, he and Cross also taught students about the rules of the game and golfing etiquette — including the importance of being quiet when someone else is about to shoot.
At the beginning of the club’s June 1 practice, O’Donnell gathered the younger students around him to review the correct way to grip the club while Cross helped older students practice their driving skills. After about half an hour, the older students moved to another area to practice putting while the younger kids got a chance to drive. Eventually everyone gathered near the club house for some chipping practice, and Cross demonstrated the right way to chip the ball.
Half of the students lined up to practice chipping, while the rest gathered near a picnic table in the shade or went to look at ducks floating on Canandaigua Lake, which borders the country club. The weather had been sunny and warm for each of the club’s meetings thus far, O’Donnell said. The nice weather and the opportunity to spend time outside may have attracted some students to the club, he added.
“I think they just enjoy being outdoors,” O’Donnell said.
Fifth-grader Gabriel Rivas said he’d never been particularly interested in golf before joining the club.
“I used to think it was boring, but I thought, ‘Hey, I might as well try it,'” Gabriel said.
That was not the case for classmate Sean Buckley, who has been golfing since he was a very young child.
“I started with plastic clubs and got on the course when I was 5,” said Sean, who usually golfs once a week during the summer.
Although he already has years of experience, Sean said he learned something new at each club meeting. For example, he and his classmates have learned that before putting they should look at which way the ground breaks and whether it’s level, he said.
Through his involvement with the club, golf lingo has become second nature to second-grader Robert Mugnola.
“One (stroke) is a hole-in-one, two is a birdie and three is a par,” Robert explained.
Many students joined the club in the hopes of forming closer relationships with family members who are avid golfers.
“My grandpa said, ‘Oh, you should start golfing,'” said third-grader Sydney Reber. “My grandpa would take me out on the golf course but I really wouldn’t golf.”
A grandparent’s influence also encouraged fourth-grader Zakary Bussey to join the golf club.
“My grandpa golfs a lot and he takes us, and I find it really interesting,” Zakary said.
Fifth-grader Maddie Mugnola said her father is a good golfer, and she hopes to eventually become skilled enough to play against him. Fellow fifth-grader Kelli Panara said her dad is also a really good golfer, and her whole family golfs.
“My dad likes to play golf and I wanted to play with him someday and I really didn’t know anything about golf,” sixth-grader Kaylee Tallman said, explaining why she joined the club.
Classmate Bristol Utter, who had only played miniature golf before joining the club, said she enjoyed learning about the game, while third-grader Elley Smith said she just thought it would be fun to learn to golf.
For his part, Cross said he’s had just as much fun teaching the children golf as they’ve had learning.
“It’s been wonderful. Anytime there’s something that gives you time with the youngsters, there’s nothing but good,” Cross said. “And they don’t have to be great players; just enjoy it.”