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December 2018

Unlikely Coalition Resurrects Junior Program

By Steve Eubanks 

Sometimes all it takes is shared vision. On the surface, there isn’t a lot of commonality between Boot Ranch, a luxury golf community in the Texas hill country, and the Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Golf Course in Fredericksburg. Both have greens, tees, fairways and a golf shop, but beyond that, they are at opposite ends of the game’s spectrum. However, their differences haven’t stopped players at the neighboring facilities from joining forces to grow the game and build a base of future players. 

Spearheaded by Boot Ranch member Jim Penn and supported by the club’s architect, former major champion Hal Sutton, Boot Ranch has worked with the Lady Bird Johnson Golf Foundation (connected to the municipal course) to resurrect a near extinct junior golf program as well as provide financial support to the local high school golf teams. In addition to a summer program that supports over 100 boys and girls beginning at age five and going through high school, the initiative provides funding for lessons, equipment and green fees, “taking the cost barrier away from them,” Penn said.

Boot Ranch members provide loaner clubs to beginners as old as high school kids, and the sets can be returned after the program ends or purchased at a big discount. They also provide shirts and balls to the high school golf team.

So supportive have the Boot Ranch members been that the club’s women’s golf association has created “fan clubs” for the high school teams.

“They really light up when they see each other,” Penn said of the reaction to that initiative.

Too often, neighboring courses on opposite ends of the market spectrum coexist with little or no interaction. Other than helping each other out in times of crisis – equipment sharing after major storms for example – upscale private and municipal facilities don’t do much together. Boot Ranch and Lady Bird Golf are showing how that dynamic can, and should, change.  

“Connecting to the community, embracing the people and giving back is important and the only thing I knew to give back was golf,” Sutton said. “I want kids to understand the game I love. Learning the golf swing helps kids learn the game, but it is not just about swinging a club, it’s learning how to play the game. We want the kids to get out on the golf course. The golf course is the greatest teacher of all.

“We have had some really good players come out of the program and go on to become college golfers,” he added. “It shows you what golf can mean for kids in a community like this.”

Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

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