Fox Ridge Head Pro Bob Darling and St. Dom’s varsity golf coach Chris Whitney are working together on a new golf program for middle school students. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
AUBURN — New St. Dominic Academy varsity golf coach Chris Whitney wants to bring the Saints program back to the glory days when they were contenders for the Class C state championship year in and year out.
To do that, he will build from the ground up by sparking kids’ interests at the middle school level. With the help of Fox Ridge head pro Bob Darling, Whitney is starting up the St. Dom’s Golf Academy, which will begin Wednesday at Fox Ridge. The program will run Mondays and Wednesdays from 5:15-7 p.m. until Oct. 1.
While the program is designed for St. Dom’s affiliated students from fifth through eighth grades, it will also be open to any kid who is interested in learning golf, regardless where they go to school. The program will cost $125 dollars per student and it includes a golf hat.
“I took over the St. Dom’s golf program earlier this summer, and at that point in time, I was informed the numbers would be a little of low,” Whitney said. “When I got out here (for tryouts), it was more so where we have seven golfers on the team total. A couple of beginners, from that we can work with and improve through the season. It was one of those things where St. Dom’s has such of tradition of golf team and a golf program. It’s one of those things where the middle school is where you need to go back to get the kids interested, show them what high school golf is all about.”
The Saints won Class C state championships in 2007-2008 and from 2010-13.
Whitney, who was previously the Cape Elizabeth golf coach, remembers the depth of the Saints’ teams during the nine-year tenure of Kevin Cullen, who stepped down after the 2014 season. This year, Whitney only has seven players, and two of those come from Lisbon High School.
When Cullen was the coach, the Saints had a varsity team, a junior varsity team and a middle school program.
Whitney had a familiar setup while at Cape Elizabeth, but it was through its home course, the Purpoodock Club, where kids were able to play throughout the summer before the high school season.
“Kids would go hangout in the summer, they would ride their bikes down, hang out by the range or putting green and play together,” Whitney said. “Here, it’s a little different because we don’t have one town or that one-club atmosphere.”
Darling is glad to be back working with St. Dom’s after a few years of having little contact with the program.
“Chris has been a bright spot for this program, there’s no question about that,” Darling said. “Nothing against the other coaches, but the only way your teams in high school are going to get better is to have a feeder program for the younger kids, like most of the other sports do. Golf is no different, you got to have a kids at a younger age. If they get better as they get a little bit older then they want to keep on playing.”
Darling once took part in the St. Dom’s Summer Sports Camp before Cullen took over the duties, and he was involved with Cullen’s middle school program. Darling also has his own junior program at the club, during which he gave parents a heads up about the program that Whitney is starting because a couple of Darling’s students go to St. Dom’s.
It’s also a tough juggling act of teaching the basics of golf and being competitive at the high school level. Through restarting the middle school program, the hope is that players will have the basics down before they reach high school.
“I see a lot of kids join or say I want to go out for golf, and they don’t know what end of the club to hang onto,” Darling said. “That’s not really what you want at the varsity level. It’s (fine) if they are seven or eight years old and you teach them what end to hang onto, right? By the time they get into high school they can play golf a little bit.”
Whitney said the goal is to have no more than 30 kids in the program so that the student-teacher ratio is around 15 to 1 between Whitney and Darling. Whitney said the response has been great so far, with seven kids signing up Wednesday night when the school released the details of the camp on social media.
This fall program will lead into a summer program next year in which part of the benefits will include membership to Fox Ridge and a strength and conditioning program. Whitney hopes he can create a summer high school golf league like other high sports have during the summer.
“We already setting up a program for the summer, the payment the kids would make towards the program will include a membership to the golf club,” Whitney said. “We will have a high school golf league for high school teams, just like a high school match will be in the regular season in the fall, we would do once a week in the evening here where we would host six schools.”
If there’s enough interest at the middle school level, Whitney would also like to start up a middle school league.
For more information, contact Chris Whitney at 207-745-0134 or at [email protected]