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Teeing it up: Young golfers turn out in large numbers

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More than 170 kids tee off every week at Mississippi National Golf Links as part of the community's youth golf program this summer.

Aspiring golfers from all around the area - including Ellsworth, Goodhue and Hager City - practice either Monday or Thursday morning at the course, led by Red Wing native Jaymie Halvorson.

She may not be a professional golfer, organizers said, but years of experience as a golfer and an assistant coach for the Minnesota State University-Mankato golf team make Halvorson more than qualified to teach those just starting out.

"I'm going into education and I love kids, so I know how to get to them maybe in a different way than a pro might," Halvorson explained.

She has been an instructor in the summer program since it started four years ago, but this year is her first taking on the role of lead instructor.

Also offering help and advice to the kids in the program are five other instructors, as well as Nathan Petric, the head golf professional at MNGL.

Dave Baringer, a volunteer, said the youth program helps kids become better when they're ready to join school teams because they have that much more experience and practice under their belts.

"The only way you get better at playing golf is you've got to play the game," he said.

"The younger you start them, they figure it out a lot easier," Halvorson agreed.

During their weekly practice, kids break up into small groups by skill level or age and rotate between different stations for chipping, putting and long iron shots.

Practices are canceled if it rains before golfers show up to the course, but if bad weather interrupts a practice that's already started the group moves into the clubhouse and focuses on aspects of the game other than hitting, such as rules, etiquette, safety and scoring.

"We just try to do what we can to help the kids get better," Halvorson said.

The program began the week after school got out in June and runs until the end of August, when a tournament, awards banquet and barbecue will be held.

"We've never done anything like that before so we're excited to have the kids play a real tournament," Halvorson said.

Whether inside or out, hitting balls or mastering scoring, the goal of the summer program is simply to get kids to have fun and learn about golf, Halvorson said.

"It's such a great game, and it's a lifetime sport."