Low score kids’ goal at academy

first_imgDAUFUSKIE ISLAND, S.C. – One by one, they file off the bus with their backpacks and school books, smiling and pushing each other – like any group of high schoolers finished with class for the day. However, these teens have hours of course work left this afternoon, along with sand shots, drives and reading putts. They are enrolled in the International Junior Golf Academy, a facility that blends college-preparatory classes with intensive, high-level instruction by former pro golfers on a golf course. Not that there’s much choice but to practice and train; the mainland is a half-hour ferry ride away through the Calibogue Sound. “It might sound like Alcatraz, but it’s not that,” said Charlie Hoyle, a 17-year-old student from England in his second year at the academy. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week The school was founded in 1995 by Brooklynite Ray Travaglione, who grew up playing and caddying on city courses. He had a successful career on Wall Street before sinking much of his savings into the long-held dream of a golf school. How much did he have to invest? “Let’s just say it took everything I had at one point,” he said. Travaglione modeled the school after the success of tennis academies, such as Nick Bollettieri’s academy that has developed Grand Slam winners including Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova. Travaglione liked nearby Hilton Head Island, one of the country’s top golf locations and home of the PGA Tour’s MCI Classic at Harbour Town Golf Links. So began the slow, time-consuming process of persuading parents to send their children to an island off the coast of South Carolina to become scratch golfers. “At the time it was fairly innovative, fairly risky,” Travaglione said. He says he started with a handful of teens whose parents believed in him. By the school’s fifth year, the academy had earned a reputation for combining academics with golf – not necessarily to scorch the PGA or LPGA tours, but to earn golf scholarships to college. A year ago, Gary Gilchrist, a former professional who taught rising stars Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, became the International Junior Golf Academy’s golf director. Gilchrist liked the focus on the total person: helping to train a student’s mind as well as his swing. “The thing is, it’s so exciting to do this,” he said. There are about 125 students from 24 states and 16 countries. Full-time students are housed in guest cottages along Daufuskie Island’s shore. They attend class at the Heritage Academy, then work on their golf for three hours each afternoon. Along with instruction on stance and grip come lessons on health and life. Sports psychologist Stephen Russo helps the teens with issues such as blocking out distractions and making smart choices. “Some of you have been here two or three years, and you’ve gotten tremendously better,” he recently remarked to three dozen students. That’s been the case for Hoyle, who has lowered his handicap from an 11 to a 3 during his time at the academy. “It’s just a really good sort of atmosphere,” said Hoyle, who hopes to earn a golf scholarship to college. All the tools to improve are on the island. The teaching staff includes former pros. Instructor Hugh Royer III, who spent several years on the PGA Tour, said if a place like the academy had existed when he was a teen, “I wouldn’t be here now; I would be a multimillionaire playing on tour.” The students disperse to two island golf courses after class. There are instruction weeks to work on technique and style, and in competition weeks students prepare for events on the International Junior Golf Tour, in which academy students play tournaments at Harbour Town and the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass. Gilchrist showed one group the proper backswing, while Royer worked with another group by the putting green. “Come on, concentrate, people,” he called as teenage minds wandered. Ana Johnson, 17, of Oconomowoc, Wis., is in her second year at the academy. She eventually wants to design golf courses or take part in the industry in some other way. Her improved game, though, might force her to think about playing on tour. Shooting over 100 on her high school golf team, she has brought that down to the high 70s at the academy. She likes the secluded spot to train and study but acknowledges enrolling at the academy “was a lot of sacrifice because I gave up a normal life.” There are supervised outings to malls and movies. “We do things like paintball,” Hoyle said. Ben Lasso, 16, of Falls Church, Va., thinks the students mesh well since they share the same goal of improvement. Lasso has brought his handicap down to a 3 in his two years at the school. “This is a great place to be, since golf is everything I do or want to do,” he said. The academy is not for everyone. A full year’s tuition, including room and board, is $34,000, and the seclusion does not suit everyone. “I think personally it has been a sacrifice,” Lasso said. “But to me it’s worth it.” Students have accepted scholarships from college powers such as Georgia, Purdue and Clemson. Johnson, a senior, said she has discussed scholarships with golf coaches at Virginia, North Carolina and William & Mary. “That’s certainly part of our mission,” Travaglione said. Its scope could be growing. The academy is building a practice facility and dorm space for 200 students on the island. Travaglione says he’s in negotiations for a West Coast satellite golf school and for bringing other instruction – in baseball or soccer – to his campus. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more