ENFIELD, Maine — Hit with a backspin, 16-year-old Wyatt Foster’s first shot on the par-3 seventh hole at Barnes Brook Golf Course landed to the right of the hole and rolled about three feet from the lip of the green. He was pleased.
Seventeen-year-old Drew Knights pulled his shot on the seventh hole so that it landed about 30 yards left of the hole — not quite what he wanted, but good enough to lead to a bogey.
Fifteen-year-old Nick Garfield topped his shot on the seventh so badly that it squibbed about 50 yards into the fairway, which was absolutely nothing like what he wanted and enough to draw snickers from his pals.
“Great shot, Nick,” Foster teased him. “What a beauty. Nice!”
The three are learning the many joys of golf at what is still, despite the examples of Tiger Woods and other young pros, a very young age.
They are among 52 boys and girls ages 5 to 17 who are playing golf for free on Monday mornings as members of the Maine Junior Golf Club, an effort to teach the game to youngsters who otherwise might never become involved with it, said Gary Tourtillotte, the club’s instructor.
“We had 41 kids last year and eight to 10 the year before,” Tourtillotte said Monday. “When we are here, we have a lot of fun and we do a lot of teaching.”
For course owner Mike Clendenning, allowing the kids to attend the three golf clinics and then play the weekly nine-hole junior tournaments that follow is shrewd business but also idealistic. Besides growing his customer base, Clendenning hopes the effort eventually will lead to more young Maine golfers, particularly those from the Lincoln Lakes region, playing at good golf colleges and in the pros.
“I am trying to get national recognition for high school golfers in Maine,” Clendenning said. “Unfortunately with players in the state of Maine, there is not enough recruiting.”
His course’s patronage helped Lance Bernier and Marshall Foster get good enough to make Husson University’s golf team, and 24-year-old Jesse Speirs just won the Greater Bangor Open, promising signs to Clendenning that Maine’s native golf talent is growing, he said.
With Clendenning, Tourtillotte and Enfield resident Stu Kallgren, the program has three certified teaching pros, a good way to help the talented kids along. But kids are still kids, Tourtillotte said, far more serious about playing than practicing. That’s why Clendenning’s support is important, he said.
“It’s crucially important to them that they get out there,” Tourtillotte said. “If we did away with the clinics, they wouldn’t care, and if we did away with the tournaments, they would not show up.”
More young girls are getting into golf thanks to the program, said Rebecca Hatt, 14, of Lincoln, the program’s first female participant. Ten now play at the program’s upper and lower levels, she said. She and her friends want to see more girls join.
“It’s the best way to get out and have fun,” said 16-year-old Ashley Libby of Lincoln.
The program is growing some talent, Clendenning said. Garfield, of Lowell, hits in the low to mid-80s. Knights, of Lincoln, in the high 80s and low 90s, while Foster, a Howland resident, says he hits in the high 70s, and, says Tourtillotte, drives the ball a mile.
Not that their games lack for frustrating moments.
“We laugh a lot at each other,” Knights said, “especially when somebody hits one badly.”
Clendenning hopes to raise money to send the team to Florida or another out-of-state locale to attend clinics and tournaments like what he hosts, which has drawn about 20 sponsors, he said.