Golf clinic gets kids in the swing

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PARIS – As the sun struggled to break through a morning mist Tuesday, 38 children, ages 5 to 14, ringed a putting green at the Paris Hill Country Club.

Mike Cloutier, the club’s pro, walked about in the center of the ring, placing miniature flags.

With his pupils divided into three groups, Cloutier assigned each cluster a target. With the golf balls set on the fringe of the green, they were aiming to chip a shot near their respective flags.

As Cloutier gave permission, each of the kids took a swing. Thirty-eight golf balls criss-crossed the green. Some came close to their targets; missed widely.

“Did anybody hit the flag?” asked Cloutier.

“I almost did!” said one student.

“I wasn’t even close!” another responded.

The exercise was one of several Cloutier taught on the second day of a children’s golf clinic at the country club. Cloutier teaches several golf clinics, but this is the first year that he has held a children’s clinic. Today concludes the second such clinic of the summer.

For two hours a day, Monday through Thursday, the participants head up Paris Hill to learn the game. At the beginning of the day, the crowd is divided into three groups, with age ranges of 5 to 7, 8 to 10, and 11 to 14.

While some of the children attend with their own golf clubs, Cloutier sees to it that clubs are available to all participants.

“I do my best to give everybody the opportunity to participate,” he said.

The clinic began with putting exercises. On Tuesday, it expanded to chip shots. On Wednesday, the group practiced swings aiming to go 20 to 30 yards, and today the clinic concludes with the biggest swings yet, aiming to go 50 to 60 yards.

“My philosophy is you start on the putting green and move back,” Cloutier said.

This latest clinic showed an increase in interest from the first clinic, which had 20 participants. Several of the kids in this clinic came to try something new.

“I got bored with baseball because I’d been playing it for awhile,” said Cordell Brooks, 10. He said his family plays golf, and he decided to give it a try for himself.

“I’m not great at golf, so I came here to learn,” said Alex Burns, 10.

Alyssa Emerson, 11, said she found out about the clinic through a news flier.

“I think it’s fun,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot already.”

To help teach the day’s lessons, and keep 38 kids under control, Cloutier relies on three assistants, one for each age group. On Tuesday, these assistants were Bryan Litchfield, Jo Steeves, and Cloutier’s son, Matt.

Matt, a recent Poland High School graduate, has been playing golf since he was 7. Litchfield, a student at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School, has been playing since he was about 5. Both said starting the sport early will help the kids increase their skill and appreciate the game.

“I stayed with it because I enjoyed it when I was little,” Matt said.

On the first two days of the clinic, the day concludes with a contest. In each age group, the person who can sink a putt in the fewest strokes wins a candy bar.

“They really try hard to win,” said Cloutier. “And it’s fun to see them when they do win.”

On completion of the clinic, the kids are given membership to the country club. Cloutier said most of the participants in the first clinic returned the day after its culmination to play a game with their parents.

Cloutier says at least 10 of the participants in the first clinic have signed up for a pee-wee tournament held at the country club in August. He hopes the kids in the second clinic will also consider entering the tournament.

“In my opinion, it’s been very successful,” said Cloutier of the clinic. “Hopefully we’ll continue to do it for many more years.”

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