AIKEN - When 9-year-old Matthew Bauerlin stepped onto the Houndslake Country Club golf course, the only golf club he had ever used was a putter.
"I had played Putt-Putt, but this is different because you get to use different types of clubs and the course is a lot bigger," Matthew said. "It's a lot of hard work, but it's fun."
The fifth-grade pupil is one of 20 youngsters learning the basics of golf through the Aiken Hook a Kid on Golf Program. The weeklong clinics introduce children ages 8 to 13 to a sport they wouldn't normally get to play.
"It's about getting kids interested in golf with the increased interest in Tiger Woods and others, and working in other messages about etiquette, honesty and mutual respect for playing partners," said Joe Spencer, the program's coordinator.
The program costs about $115 per child, but participants pay $25 at most. Several community groups and golf clubs have chipped in time and money to make the clinics possible for the third year in a row. Grants from the South Carolina Junior Golf Association have made it possible for each young golfer in the program to receive a golf bag, several golf clubs, a T-shirt and a chance to get one-on-one help from professionals.
The first thing Ashley Jones, 9, of Aiken, learned how to do when she arrived at the clinic this week was to properly grip the club. She also made some new friends on her summer vacation while trying a sport she said she would never have thought she would be playing.
"You try to hit the ball high in the sky," said Ashley, who will be entering third grade at East Aiken Elementary School this fall.
"I think I may play golf again in the future."
This year, Mr. Spencer added a fourth golf clinic. After the participants practice their swing and putting in the morning, they hear from guest speakers in the afternoon about health and the importance of making positive choices in their lives.
"I've had kids come to me and say that their dad has gone out and bought an old set of clubs so that they can play together," Mr. Spencer said.
Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395, ext. 109, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two more clinics are planned, and some slots remain. For more information on the Aiken Hook a Kid on Golf program, call (803) 643-4657.