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'Big Break' entices girls to give golf a try

On the putting green, a young girl leaned, twisted, cajoled, winced, doing whatever she could to help her golf ball negotiate an obstacle course.

Down on the Rogue Valley Country Club driving range, others tried to figure out the best clubs, the best trajectories, the best swing speeds to land a ball in a hoop. Or in a pool. Or make it knock down a pyramid of plastic baskets.

At the end of the range, an occasional roar went up. Someone had successfully powered a ball through a framed, tin-foil target. It was another break at the Big Break Challenge.

The event last Saturday was the first of five clinics by LPGA professional Marla Parmele (formerly Corbin), an introductory affair patterned after “The Big Break” television show.

Subsequent sessions will center on instruction and on-course play, but this was an enjoyable way to give girls ages 7 to 17 a taste of the game.

LPGA-USGA Girls Golf (girlsgolf.org) sponsors Girls Golf Days, a national initiative to bring girls to the game. It partnered this year with the Golf Channel, hence the theme, and 13 girls participated at RVCC.

Parmele used to own Bear Creek Golf Course. She sold it three years ago but has continued to teach, first at Cedar Links, then Centennial and, for the past year, at RVCC.

The girls clinic was a reprisal of what she annually did at Bear Creek.

“This was the best one I've ever done,” she said. “It attracted a wider range of ages.”

Younger kids typically attended the Bear Creek clinics, but this one had a different feel, she said, because it was at RVCC, and the concept was “pretty interesting.”

Mikaela Perry, one of three members of the Ashland High team who participated, found the foil challenge particularly foiling.

“It was a weird height,” said the senior-to-be. “It was between going a long distance or staying low to the ground. It was our first activity and I hadn't warmed up.”

It was the first time she'd swung a club since the district tournament, but it won't be the last. She and her teammates, Maya Timmons and Taylor Barats, plan to attend the series of clinics, said Perry.

For 10-year-old Ava Telford, it was her first structured golf experience. In addition to the fun contests, players received a gift bag with various trinkets bearing the LPGA Girls Golf logo.

“She loved it,” said her father, Trevor. “She went home and, oh gosh, took all of her prizes and looked at everything and just thought it was the coolest thing.”

She borrowed clubs for the clinic. A few days later, her parents bought her her own set, and she's now in a clinic at Laurel Hill.

“She's hooked,” said her dad.

The remaining Girls Golf Days clinics are on Mondays at RVCC, June 22, July 6 and 20 and Aug. 3. The cost each day is $15, and players can attend as many or as few as they want. Players will likely be divided into two groups, separating the older and younger kids.

When Parmele got word from the LPGA regarding this year's theme, she was eager to resurrect the youth program.

She gives about 15 lessons a week, she said, and has changed her idea about what is an effective way to teach.

“I really like to see people get on the golf course faster,” she said. “I think being in a lesson is great, but getting out and playing is where the fun is.”

The Big Break Challenge had a plethora of shots handy for a round of golf.

Parmele had a band of helpers operating each station, including three girls who started with the girls program when they were younger.

At the outset, Parmele outlined the activities and two of her former students, Briyonna Felon and Carli Brousseau, spoke about the benefits of Girls Golf Days.

“They both mentioned the biggest thing they got out of it was really strong fundamentals,” said Parmele.

After the introduction, the girls went to the stations and Parmele bounced from group to group and interacted with the girls.

She was heartened to hear the high school girls say, “'Oh, we should be doing this at the end of our season,'” said Parmele. “Something fun and playful and yet you still have competition.”

Even the younger kids, who hadn't perfected their grips or swings, completed the challenges and felt good about their accomplishments.

“I thought it was great,” said Trevor Telford, himself an avid golfer. “Marla made it fun. They weren't just out there. With something like that, it excites the girls more. It simplifies the game, and there's so much to learn about golf.”

Points were generously awarded, and there was no overall winner.

That didn't appear to minimize the difficulty of some of the tasks.

“It was weird how much of a challenge it was,” said Perry. “So many little things, but it was challenging in the funnest way.”

Those interested in the remaining clinics can contact Parmele at 541-840-5151.

Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776 4479 or ttrower@mailtribune.com.

Haylie Jones watches a putt on the obstacle course players negotiated during the Big Break Challenge at Rogue Valley Country Club. PHOTO BY TIM TROWER