New generation of golfers in Gypsum | VailDaily.com

New generation of golfers in Gypsum

NWS Golf Class 1 DT 5-1-12

GYPSUM, Colorado – The first time Morgan Rowles stood on a golf course – Wednesday, by the way – he drained his first putt, 8 feet of unbridled glory.

He grinned so big the sunny Western Colorado sky could barely contain it.

“Golf is bad ass!” he declared.

It was Golf Goes to School for a dozen and a half Eagle Valley High School students, part of a program designed to introduce them to golf as a lifetime sport. It’s a collaboration of the town of Gypsum, the Colorado PGA and the Gypsum Creek staff.

Kylan Kottenstette’s Eagle Valley Individual Lifetime Sports class loaded onto a bus and took the short ride from Eagle Valley High School to the Gypsum Creek Golf Course.

Three lessons, each one class period long, and then onto the course.

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“This is new territory for them,” said Tom Buzbee, Gypsum Creek’s director of golf. “None of them have every held a golf club, they’ve never been a golf course.”

The town of Gypsum picked up the tab for the bus to get them there, and for the golf balls and loaner clubs. The class played for free Wednesday, their fourth day and the first on the course after three lessons.

Kids who finish the Golf Goes to School program can play Gypsum Creek for $5 after 3 p.m. all summer. They can bring a friend, they can borrow clubs, they can hit on the driving range for free.

The Gypsum Town Council’s reasoning was simple: The town owns a golf course and wants people to enjoy it.

They’re bucking a national trend, but Gypsum does that all the time.

The U.S. is home to almost 18,000 golf courses. It can support 12,000, Buzbee said.

He’s lived it his entire career. He was a teaching pro for years, then rode the golf course development wave, building 16 golf courses in 21 years.

In the last five years, 30 percent of the golf population left the game, he said.

Buzbee stood in the golf shop during spring break and not one kid came through to play golf.

One adorable EVHS student looked at Buzbee Wednesday on the 18th fairway and reinforced everything he’d been saying for years when she said, “I didn’t think I was allowed to come here.”

He looked around at a recent Colorado PGA meeting and stated what should be obvious, “Guys, we have a problem.”

Gypsum and Gypsum Creek are kicking down barriers that exclude people from trying golf – the cost, the time, remembering all those rules, the dress code.

“This town gets it. They want this to be their community course that the entire community can enjoy,” Buzbee said.

Jeremy Hughes from Eagle Springs was on hand to help Wednesday with Golf Goes to School. Joe Kamby from the Colorado PGA was caddying for his laughing, high-fiving foursome.

Susie Helmerich, LPGA member and Gypsum Creek’s general manager, made everyone feel welcome.

Last year the Colorado PGA ran the program in 30 schools and reached 2,000 kids.

“We need to take golf to where the kids are,” Kamby said.

Gypsum Creek is ideally situated. Three schools are within walking distance and the course is owned by the town, but they’ll run the program for any school, from anywhere, Buzbee said.

“If I can’t do it here, no one can do it anywhere,” Buzbee said.

The solution to golf’s problems look like Cynthia Arenales, and Christian Torres, and Tayler Esslinger.

“I thought it would be boring, but it’s good,” beamed Torres.

Esslinger stood on a tee box for one of the first times in his life and drilled a 250 yard shot down the middle – dead solid perfect.

“It can be intimidating if you come here and you’ve never had any instruction,” Kottenstette said.

At Golf Goes to School they learned that you play golf for fun, that the laws of golf are more like guidelines, and the foot wedge can an amusing use for your Converse All-Stars.

They’re too young to recite lines from “Caddyshack,” but they now have “Happy Gilmore” etched into their very soul.

Rowles is a dandy high school wrestler who had never tried golf. Alex Lassa is a multiple All-State volleyball player and will play Division 1 college ball next year. She’d never played either, but life is for learning.

“Everyone thinks they’re the only rotten golfers. They’re not. We all stink, but it’s fun,” Buzbee said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.