WORLEY, Idaho – Skies were blue and the temperature a moderate 80 as young golfers gathered for the final day of their four-day golf school at Circling Raven Golf Club. The first three days had been primarily instruction on many aspects of golf and this final day was the opportunity to get out on the course and test what they had learned. “The horse race on the last day,” is the way their instructor, James Samuels, had labeled it.
Samuels is an enrolled member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and works as an assistant professional at the golf club, located on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation. He is also an apprentice in the PGA program and three years ago, when Circling Raven opened, he went to the CEO and asked for a job. “I wanted to work in the pro shop. I was a manager in the casino before,” he said.
“Golf courses always have junior programs, so I got involved with it my first season along with the head pro. He asked if I wanted to help with it and I said I’d love to, to get a golf club in the youths’ hands, and I’ve been doing it ever since. He kind of handed it over to me.” He’s not alone in teaching golf. “We hired another assistant professional, Jared Jones, and we both head it up now.” Samuels is very enthused about getting youngsters started in golf and that enthusiasm bubbles forth when he speaks of the program.
The youngsters, both boys and girls, were divided into two groups based on their age. One group ranged from 7 – 11 years, the other was for those who were 12 – 17 years. “The first year we had numerous 16- and 17-year-olds,” Samuels said. “This year it’s mostly younger kids.”
The older group gathered around the first tee, taking their turn driving off a tee. Most chose woods; others selected irons. The experience level was evident as some drove the ball very well and others, newer to the game, had a bit more of a problem; but there was no bragging and each young golfer got a round of applause from the other golfers and a small crowd of parents in attendance.
Victor SiJohn, who had one of the longer drives, and later commented that he’d been playing since he was 9, some four years ago. The training was also apparent when, after hitting from a bunker, he immediately picked up a rake and smoothed the sand for later golfers.
The older group continued on with Jared Jones while the younger kids went to another fairway with Samuels. Each was given a numbered ball to determine when they would step up and hit and also to keep track of the balls along the fairways. A fairway of several hundred yards is a long distance to a beginning 8- or 9-year-old, so they were started midway to the green. Hitting the ball was a challenge for a few, whereas others did very well, but the same courtesy and applause was given to each young golfer.
Lee Zahir was there with his son, Charlie, and daughter, Jasmine. Zahir is an enrolled Hesquiaht from Vancouver Island but has lived on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation most of his life. He was very enthusiastic about the program and had nothing but praise for it. “The kids absolutely love it. My son, Charlie, wants to give up all other sports this summer to play golf.” Charlie, standing nearby, nodded his head in agreement. Zahir continued, “It’s a great program and it gives parents the opportunity to spend time with their kids.”
Samuels explained plans for the future. “Next year we’re going to go to a sponsorship, get the casino to sponsor it or the tribe itself. What Jared and I will do with whatever money we generate, we’ll buy the shirts, we’ll buy them treats and we’ll buy them surprises for their events. This year we had a chip-off, we had a putting contest and other things throughout the week to keep the kids interested and having fun. The kids all love it! We’ve had several that keep coming back.”
He summarized the week by saying, “The main thing is trying to get the golf club in the youths’ hands. If I’d had the same opportunity when I was a kid, nobody knows where my golf game would be. You can’t tell ’till they actually get a golf club in their hands, so that’s what we try to do.”
Circling Raven Golf Club is only three years old. It’s received national recognition from numerous golf magazines including Golf Digest, GOLF Magazine and Fairways and Greens, ranking Circling Raven shoulder-to-shoulder with such courses as Oregon’s Bandon Dunes and the famed Pebble Beach. The August issue of North American Casino Magazine is scheduled to list Circling Raven as No. 1 in its list of “Top 10” tribal golf courses. That’s an immense honor, considering the quality of tribal golf courses throughout the country. There are now 54 tribal golf developments in the United States.
These young golfers, who have just completed a week of training, received not only outstanding instruction by two assistant pros who are greatly enthused about instructing youngsters, but also got to start on a truly outstanding golf course.