Tuesday kicked off one of Gainesville’s favorite traditions amongst kids — free golf.
Chicopee Woods Golf Course began its annual Junior Golf Summer Camp. In its 20th year, the three-day instructional clinic is of no cost to the 60 kids, ages 6-14, who register at the course’s website at a first-come, first-serve basis.
Course pro Jim Arendt, who has worked at the course since it opened in 1991, said the camp is about giving back to the community.
“We were built on land that was donated by Johnson & Johnson, and the course was constructed with SPLOST money,” Arendt said. “We remember where we came from. We’re not for profit, we’re here to provide quality golf at affordable rates for people who live in this area, and what better way to do that than to do something for the kids at no charge?”
The camp is well-received by the community and fills up quickly. Both summer sessions — the second runs from July 19-21 — are already booked.
“It was fun,” said Gordon Cain, 12, who attends Lakeview Academy. Cain has been playing golf for more than a year after being introduced to the game by his grandparents.
He, along with the other kids in attendance, worked on chipping, which is a low-running shot near the green, putting mechanics, and a full swing. They’ll do the same routine today before the camp finale Thursday, when they’ll compete in a skills challenge.
“The challenges draw out some of the better skilled juniors that are at this camp,” said director of instruction Jeff Frasier, who has run the camp the last six years.
Cain said he’s enjoyed his time at the camp thus far, and is considering the incentives of continuing to play golf into his adult life.
“Maybe,” Cain said when asked if golf was in his long-term plans. “My mom says in the future, if I take over my dad’s business, it could help get clients.”
Getting kids hooked on golf is the ultimate goal of the camp. Both Arendt and Frasier cite examples of how the camp has been a starting point for many golfers in the area. Arendt has had participants who have gone on to become pros at other courses, and some of the coaches assisting Frasier during these summer camps were former campers.
“For me, working with juniors is why I got into this business,” Frasier said. “For us to come out here and be able to offer a free camp gives them the opportunity to learn the game the way I did when I was growing up. I think it’s good for the parents, too, to see their kids enjoy the game at a young age.”
Added Arendt: “You hope when you introduce this many kids to the game — or maybe they’ve already been introduced and you’re just furthering them along — you hope that you’re turning a few of them into regular golfers.”
Though the camp has always been free, keeping it that way may be a challenge in the future. Arendt said he’ll seek sponsorship for next year’s camp, and, in the worst-case scenario, the course will charge a fee to attend.
“The golf business is struggling right now, just like any other business,” Arendt said. “Our expenses are going up, and our rates area already priced at the low end of what’s around here ... I hope (charging a fee for the camp) doesn’t happen.”