by Eric Oslund
Spectrum High School has never before fielded a girls golf team, and last year they only had enough players for one boys team. Things were not looking good for this year either, as there were only five players from last year’s team eligible to return, but enter Richard Sonterre.
He is the school’s boys soccer coach, and was given the head coaching job for the golf team after last year’s coach had to have hip surgery. His soccer players spread the word of how much they enjoyed playing under him, and learning from him, and soon there were more than enough kids looking to play golf.
“They spoke highly to other kids about me and the program,” Sonterre said of his soccer players. “Extremely happy that we were able to field 14 boys between PACT – who gave us three – and 11 from Spectrum.”
The golf program’s growth didn’t stop there, though, as 2017 marks the first time ever that the school has had enough players to field a girls varsity team as well.
“Due to the commitment of a couple of eighth graders who really wanted to play golf, and their parents, kind of a tight knit group of eighth graders, and one player from PACT as a ninth grader, able to field eight girls,” the head coach explained.
The Sting have a total of 22 kids in their golf program this season, which is enough for a varsity and junior varsity team for both the boys and girls – with some kids overlapping between the two levels. It’s something that Sonterre loves to see as Spectrum has historically had just one boys varsity team.
He points it towards the fact that people are starting to realize the importance of having a sport you can play all your life, and there comes a point in time where people just aren’t capable to play football, baseball, hockey, etc. anymore, but golf is one they can play for a majority of their time on Earth.
That, coupled with the fact that prices for tee times, and you can now buy affordable clubs, has started to peak people’s interest in the sport once again.
“Golf is one of those games where the parents who now appreciate it are sharing that with their kids. They’re introducing golf to their kids, they’re encouraging their kids to play golf,” Sonterre began. “Not because it was the trendy Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods thing to do 10 or 15 years ago, but because it’s a good skill to have as you grow as an adult, and that’s great.”
Now, it’s one thing to have the kids sign up for the sport, but it’s a whole other thing to keep them interested.
Golf is a very difficult game to master, as one little mistake can sometimes ruin an entire round. It takes a lot of dedicated time for one to become a good, consistent player, and Sonterre was worried that a lot of the kids would lose interest early because of how difficult it would be.
“I was real prepared to have more kids want to quit because of the challenges of mastering the game,” he explained. “They all want to master it, no one wants to be bad at it, it’s kind of that age we live in of immediate gratification – the internet kind of thing. I really kind of worried that they weren’t going to be able to put the time in to get over the hump, and they have. It’s really a credit to the quality of character we have. I don’t necessarily think that’s the norm at this day and age for kids. That’s been good.”
While the character of the kids, and their willingness to learn, has been a breathe of fresh air, the coaches have also done their part in trying to make practices more fun, though it has also come with some challenges.
Everyone in golf always wants to be the one to hit the long ball. Be able to take out the driver and hit the ball further than anyone else on the course, but the problem is that most people are unable to do that and trying to hit the ball too hard can often lead to more trouble than it’s worth.
So the coaches worked with the players on making the right decisions. Taking an extra stroke to avoid making a mistake that leads to even more, and the kids really seem to be buying into that thinking. In part, because they have seen it reflect positively on their score cards.
“It’s not easy, and I’m not saying we found an end-all-be-all to it. We just changed the way we structured our practices,” Sonterre said. “When we send them to the range we ask for specific things that take the big clubs out of the equation to a certain extent. We’ll ask them, ‘For the next 20 balls you’re hitting the 100 marker, and you’re doing it with a partner. I want your partner tracking your success rate within 10 yards of the 100 marker.’ This is a good group of kids that follows directions, which is helpful. I don’t have to tell them to put the driver away and pick up the wedge again.”
The nice thing also is that most of the kids in the program are still very young, and as long as they continue to enjoy themselves and see improvement they should be returning to the team year after year. The hope then is that they let their friends know how much they enjoy the golf program, causing further growth for the sport.
This increased growth is also nice because there is now room for everyone, and a chance for everyone to go out and play, not just the players on varsity.
“I guess my hope is that translates into other kids who maybe believe as a ninth grader, 10th grader, or 11th grader that it’s too late, and it’s just not the case. Especially now that we are fielding enough kids to field a legitamte JV program,” Sonterre began. “If you’re a little bit older, you can still have an opportunity to come out and play golf at practice. There’s not many other sports where you actually get to do the activity at practice, and be in a competitive match as a 10th or 11th grader playing JV. I’m hoping we can maintain the momentum, build on it, and maintain these JV teams. Even have a more robust schedule for the JV players in the future.”