The Puerto Rico chapter of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA), headed by President Brian Shaver and Vice President Alberto Ríos, is on a crusade to democratize the game of golf—one youth at a time. The local PGA tandem has taken the golf gospel on the road with clinics at schools and onsite at different golf courses.
"We set up tents, with a hitting mat and net," said Shaver, who is bound and determined to spread the word among the young. "We have to grow the game of golf in Puerto Rico and it starts with junior golf. We do that by running clinics for juniors and making golf more accessible."
Among the recent converts are juniors and seniors at Escuela Casiano in Río Grande who participated in four separate clinics. The first sessions were held on the range at Trump International. Quick studies in the art of swing mechanics, the fledgling golfers took to the links and played 18 holes in the final two sessions.
"We also had about 40 kids from Río Grande. One of the churches in Río Grande, Iglesia Río Nazareth, runs a camp for underprivileged children in the area. Out of the 40, I would say 38 had never been on a golf course or seen a golf club," Ríos said. "The session ran three hours and we talked to the kids about the game—the objective to get the ball in the hole, the rules and so on. Very basic. What 'par' means, how there are 18 holes, what a golf club is, and then we show them the stance, grip and swing, and let them hit some balls."
While Shaver and Ríos see tremendous enthusiasm in the ranks of the formerly ungolfed, youth participation in golf is still a far cry from achieving the popularity of basketball and baseball. As of this writing, Puerto Rico has only 130 active youth golfers competing in Puerto Rico Golf Association tournaments. Such scant enrollment traces largely to the costs of green fees and equipment.
"Each year we go back to the same thing—the cost of golf gets to be prohibitive," Shaver added. "So we have to find a way to help juniors have access to the game. And the way you do that is through clinics. Once you find the kids who are really interested, then you invite them to come out and play."
Given the shortage of municipal links in Puerto Rico, Shaver and Ríos are making special concessions for those youths who show genuine interest in the sport.
"I think we have tremendous talent, but we need more participation," Ríos added. "In the States, you have thousands of youths playing, and then you have a few that are tops in the world. Here we have 70 players for a junior tournament and we are competing with nations that have thousands of players. What can help us is to get more youths participating. That will raise the level of competition."
Most of Puerto Rico's golf courses hold summer camps, with sessions during the month of July. The PGA also plans to run three different days of clinics—one in the Río Grande area, one in the Dorado area and another in a yet-to-be determined location—to introduce children to the sport.
Session one of summer camp runs July 5-8, session two July 12-15. For more information, call the PGA Puerto Rico chapter president at 787- 466-6004.