Youth take time to perfect game

ELKINS – Nearly 60 youngsters from Randolph County have been perfecting their golf swing this summer thanks to the John Ballantyne Memorial Junior Golf Association. The group meets at the Elks Country Club Golf Course in Elkins on Fridays, until the sessions conclude on July18.

Joe Walker, co-chair of the JBMJGA, said the organization was formed to promote golf to area youngsters. Coaches and members of the Elkins and Tygarts Valley High School teams are also on hand to help provide instruction.

“This year, we had more kids than ever before,” Walker said. “I love seeing the excitement on their faces. I enjoy working with the kids. They are learning a sport they can take with them their entire life. A lot of kids have never had the opportunity to play golf. This is their chance.”

During the sessions, kids are taught the proper stance, grip and swing used in golf. Along with the fundamentals, Walker says the kids also learn important life lessons.

“I’ve taught golf for more than 20 years,” Walker said. “It’s an individual sport. You don’t have to be the biggest, or the strongest or the most talented. You don’t have to be up in somebody’s space, like in a lot of other sports. A lot of kids don’t like that. They feel bullied.

“I detest bullying. The first thing I tell the kids, there is no bullying in golf. The first time you snicker or laugh at someone or try to intimidate someone, then I’m going to stop what we are doing and make you shake hands and apologize in front of everyone. I’ve not had one minute of trouble.”

Walker explained that he and Ballantyne, along with Chris Gow and Bob Miller, began Junior Golf at the Elks Club in 1991. He said Ballantyne ran the program until 2008, when he could no longer continue because of health issues. Ballantyne died in 2012.

“I would say 90 percent of all young people that play golf locally, learned to play from John,” Walker said. “The last thing he asked of me, he wanted me to start junior golf again. So, I started it back up this summer.”

This time, he brought Robin Mams on to help as co-chair, along with secretary Susie Reckart Martin and treasurer Frank Hinzman. Together they incorporated the program into a non-profit organization to help with soliciting donations.

“The support has been tremendous,” Walker said. “Many local businesses and individuals have donated to us, along with the service organizations. We could still use more money, so we have a few ideas to raise funds.”

Walker said the organization is working to make the program available year-round. Aside from participating in the junior golf program, the kids are also invited to participate in the Bubba Watson Swing for Life program and take lessons from PGA professional golfer Randy Hernly at Stone Wall Jackson Resort.

The junior golf program is free and open to all youth ages 5 through 16. For more information contact Walker at 304-704-7994 or call the Elks Lodge at 304-636-9704.