For a quarter of a century, the Cape Coral Junior Golf summer program has been teaching children in Cape Coral and the surrounding communities the basics behind the age-old sport of golf and more.
Sponsored by the Cape Coral Junior Golf Association, the program is open to age 7-18 and spans six weeks, with the youths meeting every Monday as early as 7:30 a.m. at the Coral Oaks Golf Course; the meeting times vary based on experience. This year, the program begins Monday and runs until July 8.
All of the participants finish up at approximately 11 or 11:30 a.m.
"It's an individual sport. It's not like you have to be so good to make the team," Marianne Drahos, a board member with the association, said. "You can come out there and play your own game."
She called the game of golf both mentally and physically challenging.
"They have to get out and walk and carry their bag," Drahos said. "It can be a competitive game - they have to learn rules, and they have to learn to be honest. It's a good learning experience."
A fan of golf since learning to play in her 20s, she became involved with the program 25 years ago when it was first initiated at Coral Oaks and the organizer was in need of volunteers to help out.
"The program is unique in that it is all done by volunteers, including the pros that come and teach," Drahos said. "We're all dedicated to keeping the game of golf going."
As the years passed, more and more youth signed up.
"For the past few years, we've had 250 kids in the program. This year, we have about 200 kids," she said. "We've had as many as over 300 kids. That's when we decided that was just way too much."
The participants are broken down into groups based on their experience level. The beginners are first taken out to the driving range until they learn how to hit a golf ball off a tee. Next, the children undergo a three-hole program, which involves driving the golf ball about 60 yards toward three different holes.
"That gets them introduced to hitting at a target and all the different aspects of the game," Drahos said.
Participants next graduate to going out on the course with adult supervision.
"They tee off, then they have to walk and carry the distance of the hole," she said.
They play five holes from 150 yards, then play nine holes from 150 yards.
Advancing to the intermediate group, they play from the ladies tees.
"They're learning about the rules and golf etiquette, and they're playing for golf trophies," Drahos said.
Moving up one more group, the championship players hit nine holes from the men's tees. Like the intermediate group, they also play for golf trophies that are provided through the association.
Allen Manguson, a pro at Coral Oaks, puts together the mentor list for the youths.
"He does a great job. He recruits all the other pros from the other courses who help come in and teach the kids," she said, adding that there are anywhere from eight to 10 professionals helping each week.
It costs only $20 to take part in the six-week program.
"We've kept the price low, so that anybody that wants to let their child see if they like golf can give it a try," Drahos said. "They kids get a shirt when they register."
To mark the anniversary, participants this year will get something special on the last day.
"It's especially for the 25th year," she said.
Equipment is provided to participants who do not have their own.
The program is not limited to Cape residents.
"They don't have to be Cape residents, though most of the kids are Cape residents," Drahos said.
Some are from North Fort Myers, Fort Myers and even Punta Gorda.
"It's a great place for the kids to meet kids from other schools," she added.
Registration is closed for this year, but it typically takes place over two Saturdays in May.
The Coral Oaks Golf Course is at 1800 N.W. 28th Ave.