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EDITORS NOTE:  This article was originally published online by MCAS Cherry Point, April 12, 2017.  For information about youth golf programs at your installation contact the Youth Sports program manager or the golf course directly.

The young Marine creeps along the edge of the jungle, peering into the dark undergrowth for a sign, a hint, anything that would help him locate his quarry. With a quick glance over his shoulder at the rest of his team, he ducks into the shadows, keenly aware of the whine of hungry mosquitoes, the sweat trickling down his back, and the defensive limits of the narrow stick in his hand. In front of him, something rustles in the low shrubbery and waxy sheen of poison ivy, and he thinks ... if only I'd had the chance to sign up for the Hook a Kid on Golf program when I was younger, I might still be out on the fairway instead of in this pickle.

Fortunately for many young boys and girls here at Cherry Point, they do have the chance to get a handle on their golf game before they find themselves trekking beyond the fringe into the place where wayward balls go to die. The Hook a Kid on Golf program here has been around since the late 1990s, started by the air station’s own Professional Golf Association pro, Jim Ferree, and soon after as a collaboration between Ferree and Cherry Point Youth Sports program director David Guthrie. Their constant efforts to improve and expand the program led to Cherry Point being selected recently over more than 50 other sites as the 2016 HAKOG Site of the Year.

"Golf is one of those sports where you can have a positive influence on a child's life," Guthrie said. "Not only are they learning the sport of golf, but they're practicing etiquette and sportsmanship and finding their niche in the sports world. Our kids are only as good as the coaches, and we have the best coach in Jim. He invests in the kids and wants to see them succeed."

The program is also a huge hit thanks to the efforts of Youth Sports assistant Cassie Johnson, and former assistants Katie Smart and Jaime Fisher. Each of these three have been known to go the extra mile working with the kids, encouraging them throughout the program, and even going so far as developing relationships with the kids and their parents.

"These ladies have been great with the young girls and have done an exceptional job assisting Jim and me over the years," Guthrie said. "We're very proud of the way HAKOG has enabled us to get more girls interested in the game of golf, and how many of our HAKOG grads have continued to play on our junior team."

The HAKOG Tee (Introductory) and Green Level programs act as a feeder programs for MCCS Cherry Point's golf league.

"We began our junior golf teams in 2004 as an expansion of our HAKOG programs," Guthrie said. "We joined the Eastern North Carolina Junior Golf League with a boys’ team of eight players and just one player on our girls’ team. I think half the kids had been through HAKOG."

Since then those numbers have grown significantly.

"Our breakout year for the teams was 2009 when we grew to 25 boys and 8 girls, and this time more than half were HAKOG grads," Guthrie said. "Since then, we have been as high as 37 kids (with 12 girls). HAKOG grads continue to make up around 50 percent or better of our rosters."

The HAKOG program encourages parents and grandparents to come out and see their kids play. On "Graduation Day," parents and grandparents can join in on a five-hole modified course. Ferree walks the first hole, offering help to parents as well.

"We always receive good feedback from the kids and the parents on the program," Guthrie said. "Kids keep coming year after year. Not only do the kids participate in our program, many of them go on to play in high school and even college. Some study Golf Course Management."

Kids who have finished the Cherry Point HAKOG program love the game so much that many even come back to volunteer and help with the program.

"To see the kids come back is something I'm most proud of," Guthrie said. "The program is built on helping kids build their golf skills, enabling them to play for life. That is one of the best things."

Parents who want their kids to learn to stay on the “straight and narrow” by signing their kids up for the Cherry Point HAKOG program will have the opportunity soon. The next Tee Level clinics are scheduled for June 19-23 and for July 10-14, running from 8:30 a.m. - noon Mondays through Thursdays, with the five-hole finale on Fridays. Registration ends on June 5 for the first session and June 24 for the second. Participants receive a set of clubs, golf shirt, hat and a golf goodies bag as part of the $160 registration fee; those who have their own clubs pay $70. For more information, call 252-466-5493.

This article was originally published online by MCAS Cherry Point, April 12, 2017. Information for this article was largely provided by Hook A Kid On Golf, a program of National Alliance for Youth Sports.

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