By BRIAN JENNINGS
Five years ago, Dan LaPorte had the idea of starting a little league for golf at Hawks Landing Country Club, and a kindergarten through sixth grade program was born. The youth program has since drawn many youngsters from across the state to take up a game that wasn’t always as popular.
Seeing such a big interest in the youth program gave LaPorte another idea: start a U-18 program for high school and middle school kids, which consists of a new player development program and golf training institute for a targeted age group of 12-18.
In its first year, the little league program started with approximately 50 kids. Today, the program has swelled to 200 athletes.
“No one has a youth program like this that I know of,” said LaPorte. “It was a lot of fun starting it and watching it grow.”
In the little league program, golfers play on and a half hours each week. First, they receive a 30-minute lesson on the driving range. Then, it’s out on the course.
“Typically it’s a scramble format, where one player hits and then they use one player’s drive,” he said. “At a young age, it’s difficult for someone to be really good. We alternate shots from different locations so that they have a lot of success and fun with it.”
LaPorte said that he wants to bring a similar strategy to his U18 program, and the program will be open to surrounding towns, just like the little league.
James Giampaolo, a four year varsity golfer at Torrington High School, was hired as the new assistant pro at Hawk’s Landing about a couple months ago, and he will serve as one of the primary teachers in the program.
After high school, Giampaolo attended Methodist University in North Carolina, where he earned a degree in marketing. At the same time, he became a PGA professional in 2012. He spent a few years in Utah, working at private golf clubs and gaining experience, but returned home a few years ago. He worked at Shuttle Meadow Country Club in Berlin before coming to Hawk’s Landing.
“It’s been nice to come back to Connecticut after a while because you can give back to programs that started people like me,” said Giampaolo. “To get back to teaching kids has been really good.”
During the offseason, Giampaolo travels down to Methodist and volunteers for their player development program a couple weeks out of the winter as well. Giampaolo said that in a way, the U18 program is almost a product of what he went through as a kid.
“The programs I grew up with were definitely not as extensive as this. I wish they were,” he said. “I think a lot more people would have gotten involved.”
During the summer when school is out of session, players will have the opportunity to play on the course during the week, as well as receive a playing lesson with Giampaolo.
The weekends will consist of practice sessions with Giampaolo, where players will take part in clinics and extended playing lessons, in order to hone their skills. Giampaolo will also conduct analysis of golfer’s swings through advanced video technology.
Games are expected to scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays, around 1 p.m., during the summer months. Practices on the driving range will be held on weekend mornings around 9 a.m. Times may shift as the season unfolds.
A ten-week session will cost $150, including a training session during the week and nine holes of golf with Giampaolo. LaPorte said that he believes he won’t have much trouble filling spots in the program.
“It’s kind of like a natural progression,” he said. “The kids that were in the little league are ready to take it to the next level. The exciting part is that about 40 percent are girls in our youth program. There are more opportunities for girls for college scholarships.”
LaPorte said that he hopes the interest of girls will spark the idea of starting another project in the near future: forming a girls golf team at Southington High School.
“We’re excited to see the amount of girls, but we were surprised that girls have that much interest in the game of golf,” he said. “There are a lot of good golfers in Southington, and we’re hoping that we can develop them to be college players, if that’s where they want to go.”
Laporte said that he also hopes to work with Southington golf coach, Jim DiNello, on the new program.
“I know it’s something that he would want,” the owner said. “I think every high school coach would like a feeder program for their high school program. So it would be fun to work together, there’s no question about it, and work with kids that want to be a little more competitive all during the summer and fall.”
For more information about the program, you can email Giampaolo at firstname.lastname@example.org or call LaPorte at (860) 919-8602.
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