|Heritage Links Junior Program Explodes - A Look At One Of Minnesota's Hottest Junior Programs|
Tim CotroneoIn 2009, Heritage Links Golf Course in Lakeville played host to about 33 youngsters in their summer junior program. In 2016, Heritage Head Professional Brett Martinson and Lakeville South Golf Coach Kirk Reiners anticipate 150 youngsters will be learning the finer points of the game starting in June.
Martinson first started working at Heritage Links back in 2004, and he became the head professional in 2009. During those early years at Heritage, Martinson contemplated how he could do more than provide traditional services for the course and his golfing clientele. Martinson believes the best way to do this is by teaching Lakeville area youth how golf is as much about life as it is about sport.
In the spring of 2009 Martinson made a call to Reiners, and the twosome discussed what could be done to breathe life into the golf course's junior program. Martinson and Reiners agreed that if they could get youngsters and their families to see Heritage Links as a place to make friends, as well as learn lifelong people skills, then golf would be icing on the cake.
Growing The Game Through Junior Golf
Heritage Links opened for business in 1997 as a family farm turned golf course. At the time there were only a handful of homes nearby. Shortly thereafter the real estate boom took off, and Lakeville's rolling acreage became a prime Twin Cities residential destination.
"I was working at Willingers in Northfield before coming to Heritage. At first glance, I thought Heritage was one of the most wide-open course's I'd ever seen. Once I played the course I realized that there is almost always a steady breeze here, distinct water hazards, and plenty of elevation changes. I soon discovered that Heritage Links is quite a test," Martinson said.
Whereas the golf course has had a loyal following during its almost two decades of existence, Martinson has always believed there had to be a better way to weather economic downturns, as well as improve the course's future bottom line. Martinson thought that a thriving junior program would not only positively impact the golf course revenue, but also fill the personal void he felt by giving back to the game and to the Lakeville community.
Making Golf Fun
Martinson found a willing junior golf comrade in Reiners. Lakeville South High School tabbed Reiners as their boys golf coach in 2015, based in large part on his practice with a purpose philosophy that he developed with the Heritage junior program. Reiners is quick to share that there were people that helped him in his youth. This generosity was something he never forgot. Like Martinson, his passion for giving back drives the hours he devotes to this program. One of Reiners' favorite rewards is witnessing a fledgling eight-year-old thrive in golf a decade later.
Martinson and Reiners developed an open door policy for juniors at Heritage Links. Nearly all of the drills, training, tournaments, and games have an element of fun. So that the youngsters can mingle seamlessly with adult golfers, they learn the importance of pace of play, respect for the rules, and flat out respect for others. Many of the senior high golfers serve as mentors for the youngest juniors. Parents are encouraged to participate but not be "helicopter parents."
The juniors are able to play and practice freely almost every day of the summer. Heritage's junior menu also features an academy that includes eight teaching sessions, an 8-week league, a golf camp, and a short game course. Martinson and Reiners meet with each child individually on the front end to discover exactly what the child would like to get from the program. "We never forget that some of these kids are pretty young. Last summer we found a couple of kids who ditched their golf clubs and were completely enthralled by a family of turtles on the back nine," Reiners said.
Leaving Their Mark On The Game
When Martinson and Reiners first pledged to do something with the Heritage Links junior program in 2010, the golf course was at a crossroads. "We knew we could either work on getting former golfers back in the game or teach youngsters how golf is a great life skill. For Kirk and me, we decided to build new golfers and better citizens. We actually talked about creating the best junior program in the state. Now we have other courses calling us and asking about our junior formula for success," Martinson said.
If you're interested in finding out more about the Heritage Links Junior Program, contact Brett Martinson at the Heritage Links website. http://www.heritagelinks.com/
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