Assistant pro enjoys teaching youngsters

Teaching girls and boys the rules and etiquette of golf is something Austin Wright looks forward to as the assistant pro at Hickory Stick Golf Club.

For Wright, a native Kentuckian who previously logged 60- and 70-hour work weeks as manager of the Wal-Mart Superstore in his hometown of Ashland, it’s the best of both worlds: golf and kids.

One of the ways Hickory Stick attempts to grow the game of golf is through its junior camps for ages 5 to 14.

Three camp sessions — the final one runs July 11 to 15 — are divided into beginner and advanced groups. Hickory Stick averages a total of anywhere from 95 to 100 campers per summer.

Wright goes to great lengths to make the sessions informative and fun.

“The first thing I do with any age group under 10 years old is talk about safety. Making sure there’s nobody around when you swing, and that kind of thing,” Wright said. “Obviously, if they get hurt early on it’s going to deter from coming back.

“After that, really the main thing is to do a lot of little competitions. A lot of little games. Try to match them up with somebody about their skill level. You don’t want to put a 16-year-old kid who’s been playing for five years against a 5-year-old kid.”

Wright enjoys fielding questions from campers. He considers the one-on-one interaction between player and pro a vital component to making young golfers become passionate about the game.

Golfing novices light up when they first experience success.

“If you hit that one shot that keeps bringing you back, that’s what we’re looking for. For a kid I had today it was making a 7- or 8-foot putt,” Wright said. “That little bit gives them the encouragement, and they’re excited.

“I had another kid who hit an iron who hit the flag he was aiming at. Those are the things we’re looking for. We’re not looking for them to step out from the junior camp to the PGA Tour.

“It’s about giving them that special moment.”

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at