By BOB ALBRIGHT
If you really want to get an accurate picture of the thriving Meadow Brook junior golf program these days, you better make sure you have a wide-angle lens.
North Shore Golf found this out in a hurry as more than 100 of the club’s sea of 175 youth golfers greeted us. It quickly became clear that when it comes to luring kids away from the computer game console and onto the putting green, few do it better than head professional Steve Sheridan and his staff at the private nine-holer in Reading.
In fact, you can add the entire membership at Meadow Brook into that equation as well.
“The club is very good with the juniors because they understand that they are the future of the club,” said Sheridan, who is in his 15th year at the popular club. “We have a great membership and we are a family-oriented club and because of that, the kids are involved.”
While Sheridan and his staff offer myriad youth programs, the registration numbers exploded three years ago when the club implemented two new options: a PGA Junior Program as well as an inaugural girls program known as Girls on the Tee. Although the junior camps were flourishing at Meadow Brook, only two girls enrolled.
Enter Meadow Brook member Anna Molettieri.
“I would notice that boys were going out in foursomes, and wondered why girls weren’t,” said Molettieri. “We got together and worked with the women’s golf committee and developed something that would involve progressive lessons, end with tournaments, and be low-key.”
The program has evolved into three groups, grades 5 through 8, with 15 in each program and a wait-list of 23 – many of whom are able to get out on the course due to the varied summer vacation schedules of the membership. Remarkably,the program, like many at Meadow Brook, boasts a 5-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio.
“To go from just two girls in the program to 68 in just three years is amazing,” noted women’s golf co-chair Kate Coppins, who has seen Meadow Brook’s women’s golf membership soar to 83, the largest number for a nine-hole course in the state, thanks in large part to the club’s popular “Nine and Dine” league.
Sheridan is quick to note that while the social aspect is a big part of the appeal of the program, once the girls hit the course they are all business.
“They are not here because mom or dad are making them be here, they really want to learn,” he said.
Reading’s Olivia Ziegler, 15, has become a junior member after growing up as one of the few girls to participate in Meadow Brook’s junior program. Today, she is thrilled to see so many of her friends join her on the course, thanks to the Girls on the Tee program.
“I have a lot of friends who have never played golf and now they love it,” said Ziegler. “The staff is really good and they will always help you.”
The Meadow Brook PGA Junior program boasts three teams this year, including a developmental team for kids who are new to the game. The teams are broken up into two leagues that play up to 10 matches. Reading’s Nate Johnson, 12, is the oldest of three brothers who compete in the program, along with brothers Braden, 11, and Luke, 9.
“I like getting to see all these courses that we go to,” said Johnson with a grin. “This year we gotto play Myopia, which was awesome.”
Wilmington’s Rhiannon Dyment, 13, says the chance to play at some of the top private courses on the North Shore, such as Myopia, Essex, Tedesco and Turner Hill, is certainly not lost on her, or her parents for that matter.
“They think it’s fun and cool that I have had a chance to play those clubs and they haven’t,” she said.
As for pulling competition, the unflappable 13-year-old takes that in stride as well.
“It’s fun. They are always nice to me.”
Unleashing 175 aspiring golfers armed with all sorts of shot trajectories on a nine-hole course can be a tricky proposition, but it all plays out seamlessly at Meadow Brook, thanks to the guidance of Sheridan and his staff.
To provide that 5-to-1 teaching ratio, Sheridan not only relies on his two assistants, Josh Brickley and Matt Buechner, but also his intern, Joe Santullo, as well as three outside teaching pros, Steve Tague, Tim Carlson and Bryan Wilkinson.
Add that kind of top-notch instruction with the chance to play prestigious clubs and the overriding fun and social aspect of the programs, and the online registration for the programs fill up almost as quickly as the phone lines shut down when Bruce Springsteen tickets are released.
“It does go pretty quick,” Sheridan noted.
“The response has been amazing.”