SB FILE PHOTO / JUNE 2002
Casey Nakama has been teaching golf since 1992, and organized his Junior Golf Development Center in 1996.
Woods, Wie help golf draw in young athletes
When did golf become a cool sport?
At the local junior level, Casey Nakama points to 1998. Although Hawaii juniors have long fared well at national tournaments, the attention following Tiger Woods turning pro in 1996 gave golf a huge boost.
It has jumped again with the success of Michelle Wie, who spent several years at Nakama's Junior Golf Development Center at the Olomana Links.
"Just within the last year, with the attention over Michelle, there are so many kids wanting to try it," Nakama said. "Our program used to be about 30 percent girls. Now it's up to 50 percent. One class, our 8-13 beginners, it's 75 percent girls.
"It's exciting. I'm always trying to look ahead to see what kind of tournaments we can have as they develop. I've always wanted to have an all-girls tournament but never had enough before."
Nakama started teaching in 1992 and organized his school in 1996. Other instructors include Lance Suzuki and Norman-Ganin Asao and "I'm really lucky because we have good golfers who work with the kids," Nakama said.
Aspiring young golfers begin with the introductory session, an eight-week program on Saturdays and Sundays that lasts an hour. The cost is $175, including hat and shirt.
Upon completion of the session, which focuses on fundamentals, rules and etiquette, golfers move up to Session I. Youngsters advance to Session II and then to the White, Black and Red Cap levels.
Nakama's system, designed for juniors to have fun while learning the game, is also used by junior programs at Olomana, Waikele and Pearl clubs, as the Oahu Junior Golf Association's Developmental Program.
"I like working with the kids," Nakama said. "I get a lot of satisfaction out of watching players like Cyd (Okino) who come in not knowing anything and see them develop into good golfers.
"We had Michelle from when she was 10-12. That's when she developed. She's definitely special."
Golf likely will not lead to $10 million endorsement contracts such as Wie signed earlier this month but, particularly for females, it can mean a college scholarship.
"They've just got to break 80," Nakama said. "They'll have a scholarship somewhere."
As for what he'd do with $10 million, Nakama didn't hesitate.
"I'd set up a better facility for the kids," he said. "I'd like to make the program better with a better environment, better practice facilities to help get our kids better."
By Cindy Luis, Star-Bulletin