What could be better than free and fun? How about free and fun with a future that could involve scholarship money?
That was the theme of the day at the Sun City Country Club in May, where instead of senior citizens hitting the links, golfers were all just 12 or 13 years old. The outing was part of Golf Program in Schools.
GPS is the brainchild of Tom Loegering, and of course there’s a great story behind it. Loegering, a “non-retired retiree,” is introducing young people to the game — first and foremost because he loves it and wants kids to understand why.
But the road to GPS began in 2004, when Loegering and his wife moved to Sun City from California. Done with their luxurious lifestyle, Loegering says, “We didn’t need another boat or a bigger car.” He bought the Sun City Country Club in 2007 and admits, “five months later the market went off the cliff.” Now he’s hoping to save the club by getting the next generation out on the course.
It would be easy for Loegering to cash out — he believes he’s sitting on a $30 million piece of property — but he loves the course and the game, and he wants kids to learn to love it, as well. Taking a page from the Apple playbook (putting computers in schools), Loegering’s idea is to get kids interested in golf at an early age to keep them playing for life. To do that, he says, it has to be free.
Verrado Middle School PE teacher Susie Zmrazek is taking advantage of the program. The day we visited, she’d brought her two eighth-grade girls’ PE classes to the course.
“It’s amazing,” she says. “You know there [are] so many kids out there that have never picked up a club before, and now they’re getting a chance to get out there and try it. As soon as they try it, they’re like, ‘Oh, this is kind of fun!’ And it’s something they can do for the rest of their lives.”
The program includes a visit to the school for a day of training in the gym — basically showing the kids grips and swings and giving them a chance to practice on equipment GPS brings to the schools. Then students go out to the course and practice chipping, driving and putting. A Golf Academy teaches students course etiquette and rules.
“The instruction is great — really on a professional level,” Zmrazek says. “I’m a golfer, too, and I’ve learned a lot.”
Makenzie Miller, a 13-year-old from Verrado Middle School, says although she’s golfed before, the GPS experience has been helpful. She didn’t miss the pressure of people wanting to play through on golf courses she’s visited before. “I really liked it,” Miller says. “This really helped because it’s not a game situation; it’s just getting the fundamentals down and a chance to practice.”
Playing with the other girls in her class was a bonus, and seeing how they picked up the sport was fun. Makenzie’s mom Kammie, a golfer herself, loves seeing Makenzie’s interest in the sport. As a mom, she also sees the potential for golf scholarships: “I keep telling her she should play. There’s opportunity.”
Loegering couldn’t agree more: “Two hundred Division I women’s golf scholarships went unclaimed last year, and if that’s not a reason to learn to play, I can’t think of a better one,” he says.
This year, Loegering, who pays for the program out of his own pocket, introduced 10,000 young people to the game of golf. For now, his program focuses mostly on schools in the West Valley, but he’s hoping to expand.
He’s philosophical about what drives him: He believes golf is a great networking tool as well as a character builder. “When you start, you go out and pick up a club and you say, ‘I can’t do this, it’s hard.’ It takes practice … but the ability you have to constantly raise your skill level is what I’m trying to teach them. It’s not about golf, it’s about increasing your skills [and] constantly asking, ‘How do I get better? What do I need to make my game better ?’ That makes you better in your real life.”
To learn more: Visit the Golf Program in Schools website at golfps.org