Sunday, July 23, 2000

Kenton County kids grow up on the golf course




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        INDEPENDENCE — Here on the golf course, 8-year-old boys are spending a few minutes with their future selves.

        They putt with grown-up concentration. They grimace manfully at missed shots.

        Then they scramble to the golf carts and shout, “I want to drive!”

        “No, I want to!”

        “I can drive. I'm good!”

        Such are the contrasts that play across the Kenton County public golf course every Monday morning, when dozens of youngsters converge for lessons and practice. This Monday will be the summer's last session.

[photo] JORDAN “GATOR” COX, 10, (LEFT) REACTS TO MISSING A PUTT AS JOHNNY MACKIE, 7, (CENTER) AND AUSTIN PALMER, 8, WATCH.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        The program started in 1987 with 12 kids. Over the last five years, enrollment has shot from 50 to 145 — a reflection of golf's popularity and the course's commitment to hiring more staff.

        The Monday morning duffers range in age from 7 to 14. Some pay homage to their favorite pro with plush tiger heads covering their woods. Others aren't so impressed by golf's reigning champ. They're here because moms and dads wanted them to be. Or because they see golf as a type of baseball, which they love.

        “It's just with clubs and a little ball,” says Austin Palmer, 8, of Richwood.

        “It's sort of like baseball except it's easier to hit it, 'cause it sits on the ground and it doesn't move,” explains Matt Nachazel, 8, of Independence.

        Matt and Austin criss-crossed the course last Monday with Jordan Cox, 10, Johnny Mackie, 7, and a club employee.

        Of the four boys, Jordan has the most experience.

        He carries a monogrammed sweat towel and cultivates the nickname “Gator” by covering his clubs with a fuzzy alligator head. He entertains no illusions of becoming the next Tiger Woods.

        “I don't think I will,” he says. “I'll be taking over for my dad, selling cars.”

        Jordan lives in Richwood's Triple Crown Country Club, a neighborhood built around a golf course. Two years ago, he won the club championship, he reports.

        “I got hit in the mouth with a golf ball once,” Johnny offers.

        At 7, Johnny swings with abandon, sending his entire body into a spin. At one hole, he makes two attempts that travel a few feet, then finally knocks the ball with authority.

        “On the green!” he shouts, as if the first two shots never happened.

        The Kenton County pros are always teaching, but they don't ask too much of junior players, especially the youngest ones. If they learn the rules of etiquette, the pros are happy.

        Austin summarizes his knowledge thusly: “Keep your eye on the ball and don't lose it. Keep your head down.”

        “Have a good attitude,” Jordan adds. “Don't cuss if you miss a shot or something.”

        Golf also demands a little extra from a kid's wardrobe, they say.

        “You don't want to look like a ragamuffin, as my mom would say,” Jordan says.

        “I've seen people who wear tank tops — like, no sleeves at all,” Austin says gravely. When play is finished, the two boys and their comrades, including a handful of girls, pour into the clubhouse. They consume nutritious lunches of nachos and Juicy Fruit gum. They watch The Price is Right on the big-screen TV. Some talk quietly. Others play with the furniture, inspect the trophies and wrestle each other for soda bottles.

        Grown-up time is over. Summer beckons them back to childhood, where golf is like baseball and golf carts are a thrill.

        Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. She can be reached at 578-5584 or ksamples@enquirer.com.

       



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