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River Oaks offers lessons for junior players for 20th summer
80 boys, girls sign up for first session
Ceres 12-year-old Connor Flud worked on his swing with assistance from volunteer instructor Robert Schmidt. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the River Oaks Junior Golf Program.

More than 6,000 area youth have been introduced to the sport in the last 19 years.

"If I can keep a kid down here and off the streets, I'm a happy camper," said Jim Marable, 66, a volunteer instructor and former golf coach at Hughson High School. "We go over the do's and don'ts, and basic fundamentals. It's a lot of fun."

Approximately 83 boys and girls, aged 5-17, signed up for this summer's first session of classes.

A total of 200 people registered for both sessions last year.

"I'm not concerned," said Greg Silva, veteran teaching pro. "But it's a little disappointing. Golf has been down in popularity. The economy is down. A lot of people are traveling. There is a combination of reasons why enrollment dropped. We're hoping the second session picks up. We got to promote more."

The first session runs from June 10 to July 2. The second session will be staged, July 8-30.

Cost is $30 for So You Are New To Golf (SNAG) participants. Youngsters (5-7) use lightweight golf clubs with over-sized heads and larger golf balls. They focus on coordination, balance and accuracy during Tuesday and Thursday night classes.

Cost is $45 for beginners, which pays for seven one-hour classes and free range balls Monday through Friday.

Cost is $65 for intermediates, which includes seven lessons, range balls and free play on the front nine.

Cost is $85 for advanced (seven lessons, range balls and access to all 18 holes).

Signup fees were lowered for beginner, intermediate and advanced players by $5, $10 and $15, respectively.

Class sizes are being limited to 12 students.

"We have one of the most reasonably-priced programs around," Silva said.

Marable, Robert Schmidt and Ryan Thornberry are among the instructors offering classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sessions are also staged on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Marable worked with Ceres' Trent Flud (14), Modesto's Carson Carranza (11), Turlock's Sam Johnson (12) and Noah Johnson (10), and Keyes' Vinnie Damante (12) from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on June 10.

"This is my first year," Flud said. "My dad wanted me to do it. I thought it was going to be boring. But it's been really fun. When you watch it on TV, it looks easy. When you come out here, it's hard."

"I love working with these kids," Marable said. "I got a pretty good group. They want to be here. They want to learn."

Schmidt provided swing lessons to Ceres' Connor Flud (12) and Andrew Flores (6), and Modesto's Cadeen O'Neal (9).

Modesto's Noah Haynes (13), Turlock's Nolan Gaynor (10) and Denair's Davis Cornell (6) practiced putting under the watchful eyes of 29-year-old Ryan Thornberry on June 12.

"I always envisioned coming back to help," said Thornberry, former Ceres High/Cal State Stanislaus star golfer. "You try to make it fun for the kids. If you bore them to death, they're not going to like it."

"He did SNAG last year," said Lonnie Cornell, Davis' father and an associate principal at Ceres High. "Of all the sports, he seems most interested in golf. He really enjoys it. This is awesome. The kids get a lot of one-on-one attention."

The River Oaks Jr. Golf Program year-end tournament will be staged, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., on Aug. 1.