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Phipps can't explain drop in junior golf numbers
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The River Oaks Junior Golf Program has been a popular draw for many years. Created in 1993 by Rob Phipps, the program serves more than 400 youth each summer.

Enrollment has declined the last three years.

"I'm not used to this," said Phipps, a River Oaks golf professional. "Usually, we're filled up during the first two weeks when we start signups."

More than 200 boys and girls, ages 7 to 17, registered for the program's first session last summer. This year, just 113 youth signed up for the first session.

"I'm disappointed but all I care about is that the kids are off the streets and doing something during the summer time," Phipps said. "That has always been my main goal."

Phipps attributed the decline in participation to a lot of things.

"I don't know if the Tiger Woods syndrome is over," Phipps said. "When he first started, kids would say, 'I want be the next Tiger Woods.' I'm not hearing that anymore. I think he's losing some of his (appeal)."

Computer trouble, year-round schooling and the creation of a new golf program in Modesto has also had an impact on enrollment.

River Oaks had to replace a hard drive in one of its computers.

Past participants did not receive flyers in the mail.

"We lost all of last year's addresses," Phipps said.

Non-traditional students have conflicting schedules.

"The year-round stuff has hurt us the last couple of years," Phipps said.

The First Tee Junior Golf Program is offered in 149 cities and is backed by all of the major golf organizations. There are five chapters in California, including the one in Modesto.

"We don't have a budget for advertising because all of the money we do collect goes back to the kids for rule books, golf equipment and things like that," Phipps said.

"I still feel we have one of the best programs in the state."

River Oaks is accepting applications for the program's second session.

Two four-week sessions are being offered. The first session started on June 15 and runs through July 9. The second session runs from July 20 through August 13.

Classes will be held on Tuesday and Thursdays or Wednesday and Fridays. Classes are one hour long and are available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Registration is $30 for beginners, $40 for intermediate and $50 for advanced.

River Oaks will also be offering a special class for five and six year olds for the third year in a row. The class will last 40 minutes and the cost is $25.

Golf professionals, college and high school coaches and people that have been through the program provide instruction.

"Ryan Thornberry will be teaching," Phipps said. "He's the top player in this area."

Thornberry, a 2002 Ceres High graduate, had three wins, 13 top-10 finishes and set a school-record in scoring average while playing for the Cal State Stanislaus men's golf team this past season. He earned first-team, All-America honors after finishing second at the 2004 NCAA Division II national championships.

Greg Silva, a professional golf instructor at River Oaks, Gary Ard, coach of the Modesto Junior College golf teams, Ben Brenning, former Ceres High boys golf coach and Glenn Hollenhorst, current coach of the Hughson boys golf team, will also be volunteering.

For more information, contact Phipps at 537-4653.

"I want to give the kids something to do at a very inexpensive cost," Phipps said. "If parents can't afford it, the kids can participate at no charge. That has always been an unwritten rule that we have had." - By DALE BUTLER / Reporter of the Ceres (Calif.) Courier