Cuscowilla's Junior Golf Program: Providing an Early Start to Success
Tiger Woods first began to seriously learn the basics of playing golf at the age of two, and Arnold Palmer at the age of four. Consequently, their career successes (along with other professional golfers who started early) demonstrate that children have the capability to learn the game of golf at an early age.
Here in Lake Country, junior golfers are fortunate to have opportunities to learn from top professionals and to develop their golf skills. Junior golf programs in our area can lead to a passion for the game of golf that lasts a lifetime.
An outstanding course where juniors learn to play at an early age is The Golf Club at Cuscowilla on Lake Oconee, located off Ga. Hwy. 44 and Old Phoenix Road between Eatonton and Greensboro. The programs offered at this club include teaching children as young as 3 years old as well as providing opportunities to participate in seasonal activities that can teach students from an early age through their high school years. PGA-certified professionals teach junior golfers the proper way to practice and play, and prepare them for successful competition.
Parents Gregory and Lindsey Chamberlain, of Eatonton, have had their 7-year-old son, Liam, in Cuscowilla’s program since he was 4. “We have had a great experience there and we have all noticed a lot of growth in Liam’s game,” Lindsey says of the program.
The setting for the junior instruction involves the celebrated course’s Tillery Golf facilities, which include a 2,200-square-foot building with hitting bays for any weather condition, year-round practice sessions and indoor teaching areas. In addition, a full-length driving range and putting green is nearby as well as specific areas devoted to practicing chipping and the short game.
Cuscowilla’s golf course is known for its spectacular 750-acre lakeside setting and links created by the famous Bill Coore- Ben Crenshaw design team. Crenshaw, now retired, is remembered well by longtime golf fans for his stellar professional career that included 19 PGA victories and wins in the Masters in 1984 and 1985.
“Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are amongst the most celebrated golf architects of our time, building many of the top 100 courses in America; Cuscowilla was their first original design in the South,” says Head Professional Russell Radel, a certified PGA professional with experience at the TPC Sawgrass and Atlanta Athletic Club, now at Cuscowilla. “And Ben Crenshaw had just won the Masters Golf Tournament before starting the project, sparking an even deeper bond with the area.”
The highly contoured Champion Bermuda Grass greens and firm Tift Grand approaches are designed for the play of low-running shots and make the course special. “Also, the complexities of the greens are highlighted by newly renovated bunkers, a renovation project that had a focus on keeping the look and playing integrity of the original design while gaining better drainage,” explains Radel.
Cuscowilla’s golf course provides the perfect setting where juniors can be immersed into their own long-term athletic development under the guidance of trained and supportive teachers while developing good habits and healthy lifestyles. The long-term benefits of the program are to enable young people to not only play golf, but to develop other healthy traits that can carry them throughout their lifetimes, to which the Chamberlains can attest.
“Liam says he enjoys junior golf because he gets to work on all the different parts of his game from his grip to posture to his swing,” Lindsay says. “He enjoys working with his coaches because they help him and they make it fun! Although, he says his least favorite part is stretching at the beginning of each session.”
The Learning Center at the golf club is more of a community and also the home of John Tillery Golf. “Tillery is one of the most sought-after teaching professionals in America and coach to six current PGA Tour Professionals,” says Radle. “John grew up in the Madison area and has always had a love for Cuscowilla, a place he now calls home both personally and professionally. But while John is known for training his Tour stars, he has a passion for junior golf because of his sons, Eli and Ethan.
“Selfishly, we want to build a junior golf culture at Cuscowilla and the entire Lake area,” adds John Tillery, Director of Instruction and named by golf publications as one of the best golf teachers in the country.
The golf professionals at Cuscowilla are proud of all the course’s accomplishments, which are attributed to many, beginning at the top with the ownership and those who helped develop the property from the very beginning. They all keep a home at Cuscowilla and stay there for much of the year, Radel explains. He also credits the Club’s management – Director of Golf Chuck Little and General Manager Jarrod Clark.
“Cuscowilla is just a fun place to be. It’s like a big family within the golfing community here,” adds Radel. “A special place to learn the game of golf.”
The Tillery Junior Golf at Cuscowilla is open for both members and non-members and taught by John Tillery, PGA Instructor and Director of Instruction and Russel Radel, Certified PGA Head Professional. Since the beginning of the program in 2018, Cuscowilla has been fortunate to have four PGA Tour Players visit the program: Michael Kim, Smylie Kaufman, Kevin Kisner and Brandt Snedeker.
Willa Wee Lads, ages 3-5
No clubs are needed for this group designed for ages 3-5, who meet once a week for an hour during each six-week series. The youngest golfers learn basic fundamentals using the SNAG (Starting New At Golf) while having fun. At least one parent should attend with their child.
Willa Juniors, ages 6-18
Juniors are assessed and leveled through a "hat system" which is similar to the “belt system” in karate. The Junior's hat color determines their grouping during sessions.
Cuscowilla Junior Golf Summer Camps
These camps are available June 4-7, June 25-28, and July 16-19.
There is also a year-round program with quarterly sign-up.
-- Article by Hank Segars; photos contributedJ