Starting 'em early at St. Joachim

Kevin Finn has the groups all ready. "February 3" is written at the top of the page. The athletic director at Costa Mesa's St. Joachim School beams with a smile inside the teachers' lounge as he talks about the fledgling golf club, which attracts up to 80 students from kindergarten-through-eighth grades.

It's four days before February's first Friday, which means a golf day beckons.

The first Friday of each month, Finn and willing parents chaperone students at Costa Mesa Country Club, where teaching pros such as John Ortega work with the kids on swings, stance and etiquette. Children are able to play nine holes on the Mesa Linda course.

"We want to teach them to respect the game, understand rules of the game and the proper etiquette," Finn said.

Finn, in his second year at the Catholic school, heard rumblings when he first arrived that kids played golf. He wanted to find a way for them to play.

Nine holes costs $20. Lessons, which Finn said run from 1 1/2 to 2 hours, cost $25. The program is open to St. Joachim girls and boys and starts at noon.

"It's neat seeing kids arrive Friday mornings, hoisting their clubs out of the car," Finn, a physical education teacher at the school, said.

The program started with students fifth grade and older. Forty to 50 kids arrived for that first outing, Finn said. "Half were taking lessons and new to the game. Each group had one parent walk with them," Finn said.

Then came the response.

"I had parents e-mailing me like crazy saying, 'I've got a second grader who plays. He really wants to get into it,'" Finn said. So he opened it up to kindergarten and up.

Children will putt, chip, hit balls on the range. On the course, "they're carrying their own bag, raking the traps. It's great for them to play with fellow classmates," Finn said.

Some kids start from 150 yards out and play into the green.

The week before the Friday outing, Finn e-mails the parents whose children are registered and asks if they would like to play or take a lesson. For Feb. 3, Finn said the kids were primarily in kindergarten and first grade.

"For a lot of kids this is the only sport they do," he said. "They are good at golf or really enjoy golf."

Ortega said kids learn fast and keeps topics general rather than specific.

"They tend to learn better if I show examples rather than verbal instruction," Ortega said. "I tend to give full swing lessons and not do too much chipping. I want them to get used to being at the golf course and enjoy it."

Finn caddied and learned to "respect the game and all the values centered around it. This is a great opportunity for kids to get [that teaching] at a young age."

Jackson Young and Rio Jester, both 7, finished a lesson at Costa Mesa last week. When asked what he learned, Rio pulled out a putter and pointed to a thin red line running perpendicular to the blade that helps to aim the shot.

Teri Young, Jackson's mother, is pleased with the instruction her son receives.

"John is good at breaking down the swing," she said.

Another group of sixth- and seventh-graders teed off on the seventh hole. Seventh-grader Reid Crandell, a lefty, hit a low line-drive straight down the fairway. Jack Joslin, in his cardinal-colored Stanford hat, hit his drive a bit lower than Crandell, but it rolled down the middle, too. Crandell has been playing golf since he was 4.

At this point there is no competition with other schools, but Finn is working on that part.

"I've talked to John about having two of our junior high students playing against two students from Our Lady Queen of Angels or Sts. Simon & Jude; try to keep in the PAL [Parochial Athletic League]," Finn said.

Ensign Intermediate in Newport Beach reportedly has a golf club, Gregg Savage, a life science teacher at the school, wrote in an e-mail.

For now St. Joachim will keep that first Friday reserved for golf, full of sticks and smiles.

BRYCE ALDERTON is the golf writer for the Daily Pilot. He can be reached at

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