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Tigers in training?

Junior golf camps at Pebble Creek Golf Club put clubs in kids' hands, teaching them proper techniques and sparking a love for the game.

By JOEL POILEY
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 26, 2002


PEBBLE CREEK -- Several of Rick Bradshaw's newest pupils had never set foot on a golf course. Yet they had an advantage over some veteran players.

"The great thing about teaching kids is that they don't complicate it. Adults tend to analyze more than kids," said Bradshaw, in his ninth year as lead instructor for the Jim Dent & Rick Bradshaw Junior Golf Camps at Pebble Creek Golf Club.

"When you stick a club in a 7-, 8- or 9-year-old's hand that's never swung, the club is fairly heavy and their arms aren't strong enough to manipulate the club and force it at the ball. So by starting kids when they're young they can't use their arms to muscle the club and they end up swinging correctly. You always see that with tour players who started out real young."

Bradshaw's goal isn't necessarily to create professionals. Rather, he uses modern teaching tools such as video and computer analyses, along with a wedge of history and course etiquette, to ignite a passion for the game.

His students during a recent weeklong camp didn't hit everything in the fairway. But when someone yells "fore," they'll know the expression started with British soldiers yelling "down before" as cannons prepared to fire.

A teaching professional for nearly 30 years, Bradshaw keeps his instruction simple. Feel the shot, see the swing and don't be in a hurry to look up and see where the ball goes. Longtime golfers know that's easier said than done.

"It's about staying focused. Trying to discipline your posture and your stance without complicating things," Bradshaw said. "We try to get them into a system, a routine, because kids tend to move around a little bit."

Bradshaw limits his classes to 12 students, usually between the ages of 6 and 17, so he can maintain a 4-1 instructor-student ratio. Instructors preach mental relaxation as much as proper ball-striking.

"You can get so engrossed mentally that you don't even see anything or feel the swing," Bradshaw said. "Seeing the path of the club and not being afraid of the shot are some of what we teach."

For $150 a week students get swing instruction, putting and driving practice. Later in the morning, they apply that knowledge on the course. All different skill levels apply, so Bradshaw and assistants Louis Tate, Bill Babiarz and Brian McDaniel work on fundamentals such as choosing a club, proper stance and grip.

Clubs are provided for those that need them. Dent, a PGA Tour pro for more than 30 years, helps when he's not on the seniors' tour. Dent and Bradshaw also have run a golf school the past 10 years at Pebble Creek.

Bradshaw provides an on-site library, and the favorite choice is Tiger Woods' book. Woods' magic has attracted all ages to golf. Bradshaw thinks more are on the way.

"Many of the kids don't know who (Jack) Nicklaus is. So we look at what Tiger is doing," Bradshaw said. "We give them handouts and pictures and that has a very positive effect because they want to emulate Tiger."

Closer to home, students can point to Wharton High's Mike Giammaresi, who attended Bradshaw's camps growing up. Giammaresi was named the St. Petersburg Times top prep golfer for Hillsborough County this year.

Thirteen-year-old Chris Sandelli could follow in Giammaresi's footsteps. Sandelli, who lives in Tampa Palms and will attend Liberty Middle this year, shoots in the 80s. He attended the camp to hone his swing when he starts playing in junior tournaments next year.

"I'm looking to improve my grip," Sandelli said. 'I love playing here because it's wide open compared to Tampa Palms (Country Club). The instructors are good about helping everyone, whether you just started or have been playing a while like me."

Pasco County resident Jacob Boeger fits the former description. A trip with his mom, Liz, to a driving range stirred the 7-year-old's interest. Several days into the camp he seemed ready for more.

"When he came home yesterday he was already remembering what he learned with his swing and couldn't wait to get back here," Liz Boeger said. "I'm hoping he sticks with this because it's a great lifelong sport and something we can do together."

Nine-year-old Elizabeth Prather lives in St. Petersburg but spent the week with grandparents in New Tampa. She had never played before but displayed a deft putting touch.

"I've played soccer and tennis, but I think this is harder," Prather said, smiling. "Especially hitting it over the lake. I want to stick with it and try again."

That's as pleasing to Bradshaw as a 275-yard drive down the middle.

* * *

What: Jim Dent & Rick Bradshaw Junior Golf Camps

  • When: Monday-Aug. 2
  • Time: 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. daily, lunch included
  • Cost: $150 a week
  • Phone: 220-8099

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