For many kids in the River Wards, the Police Athletic League Junior Golf Program is the highlight of their summer.
“For the past almost 30 years, we’ve been running this week of golf camp, but over the past 17, 20 years we’ve expanded it to where we’ve done…eight weeks in the summertime of golf programs for the kids in PAL at no cost to PAL through our various funders,” said Ernie Rehr, PAL’s golf director and director of the Rizzo PAL Center in Port Richmond. “This week here is always the staple. This is the end of the golf season for us.”
That’s right. The program, which is completely free, starts off in May, and lasts until mid-August. The program culminates with a weekly “Golf Camp” every August, in which children aged roughly 8 to 16 are taught the basics of golf. Several of the instructors, including 18-year-old Sarah Mace of Port Richmond, are veterans of the golf program themselves.
“It’s nice to see how when I was a kid I looked up to the people who helped me out so much so I can play by myself now,” she said. “Now I can explain that stuff to the little kids and see them get better even just throughout the program because there’s just so much progress.”
Mace’s younger sister Rachel, 14, also participates in the camp. Rachel said she enjoys the camp because she makes friends and likes the environment.
“It’s just so much fun,” she said.
“I know I’ve made a lot of friends here through the years because we’ve all been doing it,” said the elder Mace. “I think that’s fun. It gives me something to do in the summer because otherwise I’d just be sitting at home doing nothing.”
The Maces got into golf partly because of their father’s influence because he was a golfer. However, “They’re kind of the exception to the rule in that they actually have somebody in their family who actually plays golf,” said Sgt. Michael Faust, the PAL administration’s administrative sergeant. “They’ve been with the program for as long as I can remember.”
Sarah got into the program when she was 9 or 10, she said. Rachel started at age 7.
According to Bob Wheeler, the current general manager of Juniata Golf Club who was a former Philadelphia police officer involved with PAL, he was part of the inaugural group of people to start PAL’s golf program in 1991. When the problem of money arose, Wheeler helped plan a golf tournament to raise $5,000 for the program. Since then, the camp has had an enormous impact on the community. When Wheeler coached golf at Northeast Catholic High School, “Basically all the kids were PAL kids who went through the camp,” he said.
Kids and instructors gathered at Juniata Golf Club Friday afternoon for the annual awards celebration, marking the end of both the entire golf program, which lasted all summer, and the Golf Camp, which lasted for the entire week.
“This is the highlight,” Wheeler said.
According to Rehr, there are about seven PAL centers across the city that bring in 10 to 20 kids for the golf program. The kids meet at various courses around the area, including Walnut Lane Golf Club, FDR Golf Club, the Abington Club’s golf course and Five Ponds Golf Course.
“We spend a week just learning the game of golf – having control of your stick, grip, stance, swing,” said Rehr, “and then also the three R’s of golf. Respect yourself, respect others and respect your surroundings. We teach them that from the getgo because it’s more than golf. You do that in life. You do that in school.”
Kids learn to not only play the sport, but learn to replace their divots and ballmarks and to not leave litter out on the course. During the final week, the program holds a chipping competition, a putting competition and a closest-to-the-pin competition for the kids.
“It’s great to see a kid who really doesn’t get a chance to golf learn and practice this whole week to get a chance to win it,” said Rehr. “They win this stuff, we don’t just give it to them. It’s not a participation [trophy], they have to earn the stuff that they get here, and that’s pretty neat.”