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Children learn to golf at no cost
Iles Golf Academy for Kids founded in 1999
Jacob Lane, 13: "Mostly I've learned about my stance. I've learned not to roll my foot and lean and to stay steady."
Saihaj Kang, 8: "How to hold a club and putter."
Nathan Ueberschaer, 7: "How far to swing. He taught me to swing back to shoulder high."
Bryan Walther, 7: "How to use my grip the right way."
Jon Boyle, 12: "The stance and how to hit a ball. I like that it's easy."
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Iles Golf Academy for Kids
CONTACT: Ben Moss, 682-1725
FACILITIES: Coyote Run Golf Course, Beale Air Force Base; Mallard Lake Golf Course, Yuba City; and Colusa Golf and Country Club, Colusa
Twelve years ago, United States Air Force Sgt. Fred Hayes was approached by Lt. Col. George Iles, who shared an idea about providing something "like Tiger was doing" for local community children.
Iles, a Tuskegee Airman in World War II, wanted to provide children free golf instruction and exposure to the sport regardless of age, race or financial situation.
Hayes got on the phone to several of his friends to arrange a meeting and, in 1999, Iles Golf Academy for Kids began offering free lessons to children ages 7-17.
"My idea was to put something out there where no kid would be excluded," Hayes said.
The first lessons were given in the river bottoms and were taught by volunteer members of Coyote Run Golf Course at Beale Air Force Base. After several lessons, Hayes decided to approach local golf professionals to see if they'd be willing to provide lessons.
In 2000, Mallard Lake Golf Course in Yuba City became the first home for the Iles Academy. Coyote Run Golf Course at Beale Air Force Base joined the team eight years ago, and Colusa Golf Course and Country Club joined two years ago.
The program, which started with about six children, now fills each of the three summer sessions per facility with between 10 and 35 students. "I hope we can keep going and adding more golf courses to reach as many kids as possible," Hayes said.
"We appreciate all the support we've had from the business community," he added.
Pete Garcia, father of 7-year-old Maya, said, "I commend them for what they're doing. It's a simple way to introduce (children) to golf in an affordable way. I respect them for it, and I'll always come here because of that. For Mel to take the time to do this is commendable."
The summer camp teaches rules, etiquette, putting and chipping with instruction on the range and out on the course. "The camp teaches etiquette, good manners, and rules of the game. There are no referees; they are the ref, so they learn the value of honesty. Golf is a great sport for that," said Iles Academy president Ben Moss.
Moss, principal at Barry School in Yuba City, replaced Hayes as Iles Academy president two years ago.
"I think what is most impressive about Ben is his enthusiasm about what's going on," Hayes said.
Sal Nasrawi, owner of Mallard Lake Golf Course, said, "Mr. Ben is a very dedicated man. I appreciate the effort they do to help the community and train the children. Golf is an expensive game, and lessons are even more expensive. They offer it for free; it's a great thing."
"We have a grass roots program that really supports kids in our community," Moss said.
Kim Walther, mother of 7-year-old Bryan, said, "Learning the fundamentals of golf is important, and we wanted to get him started early."
"I like that it's a family thing. It gives my son something to do that we can do together," Tom Walther, Bryan's father, said.
Maya's mother, Luci Garcia, plans to take lessons herself from golf pro Mel Brim in the fall. "Mel's very patient and teaches a lot about technique," she said.
Brim, a life member of the Professional Golfers' Association of America, has been teaching for Iles Academy for eight years and has been working with junior golfers for more than 40 years.
"When I was a kid, there was nobody available to teach kids. We weren't encouraged to be in the clubs. I decided to devote my time to getting programs going for junior golf," Brim said.
"Golf is something you can do with your parents as a kid, and it's something you can do when you're 80 years old," he added.
Brim said his philosophy includes "teaching that golf is a ladies' and a gentlemen's game. It's just as important to have good etiquette and behavior as it is to learn how to play golf."
In addition to the beginner camps, Iles Golf Academy offers a free LPGA Girls Golf Clinic two Saturdays each month. "It's a systematic program that starts on the green and works outward. The idea is to build confidence. They start small, and the shots become harder and longer," Moss said.
Iles Golf Academy for Kids is run completely through donations, Moss said. Coyote Run sponsors a yearly adult golf tournament to help fund the program. Donations are also accepted through the Iles website at ilesgolf.org.
All three facilities provide PGA professional instructors. Mel Brim is the instructor at Mallard Lake Golf Course, Ric Burgess is at Colusa Golf and Country Club, and Ken Yuson is at Coyote Run Golf Course. LPGA member Susan Briske is an advisor for the girls' golfing program.
Events are still available on the summer calendar.
Mallard Lake is hosting a tournament on Saturday and is also providing a camp the week of Aug. 20.
The LPGA Girls Golf Clinic runs 10-11:30 a.m. two Saturdays per month through October. A tournament will follow at Colusa Golf Course.
Moss encourages all skill levels to participate in the tournaments. "Some kids are afraid of competing, but it's a fun tournament that encourages them to get off the range and onto the course."
Moss and Hayes are contemplating an alumni event as well. "There are kids that came through the program who are adults now. I don't know anything about them," Hayes said.
For more information or to donate, contact Ben Moss at 682-1725.