Off in the distance, you may hear the song of a bird or the rustling of leaves, but from the moment you choose the club from your bag, like Lancelot pulling his sword from its sheath, and approach that small ball that is both friend and foe, there is nothing that can or will distract your focus. You shift your feet in the soft grass as you focus your gaze on one specific dimple on the ball. Your golf club moves back, while your eyes stay glued to that dimple as though a magnetic force has linked it and your pupils in a universal lock that has no key. Your club swings forward, and you watch that small pockmarked sphere until a metallic thwack fills the soundwaves surrounding you, casting the ball through the clear air. Straight down the middle! While you may not be able to hear the initial thud and subsequent bounces the ball makes after plummeting back to the earth, you can feel them in your soul. The perfect shot.
The people behind the program
Henry Stetina and the PGA Jr. League want the young people of the Mesilla Valley to experience this same feeling, to know the exhilaration of the perfect shot. Henry, who is part of the PGA Golf Management program at NMSU and the director of instruction at Red Hawk Golf Course, has made great strides for youth golf instruction in the area. In conjunction with Dick’s Sporting Goods and through hard work and inspiration, Henry and the PGA Jr. League have created a fairway that grants access to the game of golf to young people in our community.
Golf can be an expensive sport. There are shoes, clubs, lessons, green fees, and other costs that quickly add up, and many local families cannot afford to consider golf as a sport for their children. When Henry took over the PGA Jr. League in 2018, he decided he was going to change this trajectory.
Parents who would like to enroll their youngsters in the eight-week PGA Jr. League can do so at pgajrleague.com. The usual fee is $175. However, Dick’s Sporting Goods and the PGA of America have a partnership that offers scholarships to allow young people to participate at no cost if the child qualifies for free or reduced lunch at school. Once Henry discovered this partnership was available and applicable to most of the students in Las Cruces, he pushed forward, and since 2018, more than $100,000 in scholarships has been granted locally.
“Golf is a fantastic sport,” Henry remarks. “This program has a positive environment for the kids. It’s one of the safest activities with thousands of yards of outdoor playing surface. There is no reason more kids shouldn’t be playing.”
Typically, the Las Cruces PGA Jr. League likes to have enrollment evenly split by gender. Many kids do not have their own sets of golf clubs when they join the program, but this isn’t a problem. Through donations and a program named Clubs for Kids, Henry has been able to secure over 100 sets of golf clubs for the kids in the league to use throughout the season. In addition, each youngster receives a team kit.
Both Sonoma Ranch Golf Course and NMSU Golf Course have PGA Jr. League programs, but Red Hawk’s is now one of the largest in the country.
About PGA Jr. League
The PGA Jr. League in Las Cruces typically has two seasons, summer and fall. The approximately 100 participants meet once a week for eight weeks. The young players are grouped into teams of 12 based on skill level, with all levels welcome. Each team has at least two coaches who are often members of the NMSU PGA Golf Management program, giving the youth knowledgeable instructors. With a ratio of six kids to one qualified instructor, the young people are getting the attention needed to improve their abilities on the course.
The PGA of America is divided into sections, with all of New Mexico and El Paso in the Sun Country Section. Teams and individual players have the opportunity to compete on a city, section, regional, and, if they qualify, the national level. The national matches are aired on the Golf Channel.
Henry, who was humble when asked about any recognition he had received for his efforts, responded, “The awards are great, but it’s all about the kids. If ever I am having a tough day, I just look at pictures of our kids or watch the videos, and I can’t help smiling.”
Henry’s recognitions include PGA Sun Country Teacher of the Year, Player Development, and Youth Player Development awards. Golf Digest has recognized him as The Best Golf Instructor in the State and among the Best Young Teachers in America.
The city of Las Cruces and its citizens never cease to amaze, and this program is a shining example of what dedicated people can accomplish when they put their effort and passion into it. Henry, his assistant Matt Sheehan, and all of the instructors who are part of the PGA Jr. League created and are fostering an environment that offers opportunity for the future of our community, one swing at a time.
Written by Daniel Gonzales
Originally published on Neighbors magazine | 2021
Posted by LasCruces.com