By John Goralski
Dan LaPorte was excited when he saw more than 100 kids swarm into Hawks Landing Country Club in 2011 to register for the first year of the Hawks Landing Golf Little League. When it swelled to over 150 kids the next year, he noticed a small spike in the number of girls. When the league grew to 200 players and half were girls, it gave him an idea.
It was clear that there’s an interest, he thought. Why is there no girls team at the high school?
“We already host the Central CT girls golf championship at Hawks Landing, and I see all these other towns with a girls team when Southington doesn’t have one,” LaPorte said. “That bothers me. Hopefully, we’ll be able to have one in the next few years.”
LaPorte isn’t one to just sit back when a problem shows itself. It’s one reason why he organized the youth league to open the game to young talent. So when one of his female youth coaches, Rachelle Heil, noticed the spike in girls at the local league, the two began to brainstorm solutions.
This fall, the pair will launch the Hawks Landing Girls Golf League.
“We figured it was time to get something more for the girls, and we knew that we had to find a female coach,” said LaPorte. “That’s where Rochelle came into play. Hopefully, we’ll be able to create a feeder program so that these kids can eventually play in high school or with their parents or friends.”
Registration will begin on Saturday, Aug. 17, and they hope to attract at least 30-40 girls aged 9-13. It will cost $125, and athletes will be assigned to four-person teams to compete in a six-week schedule beginning in the second week of September.
“It’s such a great sport, and it’s not just for men. It can be so diverse, and that’s why it’s so exciting to be able to teach it to the girls,” said Heil. “As a female player, there are many times when I go out and play, and it’s all guys. I want to create a network of young women. This is about getting girls comfortable and excited about the sport.”
The league is a first of its kind, and the founders have spent a lot of time trying to blend the right combination of instruction and competition. Athletes will practice once each week and compete against other foursomes on the weekend. The rules have been modified to give everyone a chance to succeed and compete.
Golfers will be permitted to move their ball one club length before a shot to give themselves a good lie. After four shots from the fairway, they will be allowed to move their ball to the edge of the green. After three putts, they’ll be able to pick up their ball and total their score.
“We’re going to use a stroke play format, and that’s different than the best-ball, scramble format of the Golf Little League,” said LaPorte. “Each girls is going to play on her own and keep her own score. She’s going to learn how to play golf the natural way, but we want them to have some success when they play. It’s not going to be just about scoring well. It’s going to be about success on the course. We think that will help it stay fun.”
Heil said that she’s excited to embrace the challenge. This will be the next step for girls after the little league instructional format. It’s the next step in their development.
“It’s all about attracting the girls, so that they can continue with the sport,” said Heil. “We want to teach them about going out on the course and playing. We want them to see the competitive side of it, and we want to introduce them to the whole gamut of the game. It’s not just hitting on the driving range or lessons. It’s about etiquette.”
When LaPorte started the youth golf league, he was hoping for 30 players the first year. When it swelled to over 100, they didn’t turn anybody away. It’s the same approach now. If there’s enough interest, they’ll keep adding teams.
“As far as we can tell, it’s the first of its kind,” he said. “We’ve designed it to attract girls from 9 to 13. We may even try a 13 to 18 year old division if we get enough of a response.”
Heil said that she wishes there were more opportunities like this when she started. She began playing as an adult, and it changed the course of her life. She’s managed a golf course. She’s introduced kids in the little league, and she’s working toward her teaching certification. Now, she’ll try to inspire the next generation.
“I didn’t grow up playing golf, but I had a great teacher right from the start,” she said. “When you learn the right way at the beginning, that’s where the passion comes from—especially with kids.”