A drive up Mt. Washington Drive reveals a packed parking lot at River’s Edge Golf Course in Bend.

A local favorite for years, River’s Edge, and many other Central Oregon courses, are busy as people look for a chance to get out of their homes and recreate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As restrictions continue to loosen for gatherings in Central Oregon, local courses are gearing up for a summer full of opportunities for kids.

“We’re going to keep costs low and keep it fun,” says Meadow Lakes Golf Course head professional Zach Lampert.

The Prineville course has seen a steady increase in junior participation over the last few years, according to Lampert.

In addition to their own junior programs, many courses are partaking in PGA Junior League and the Central Oregon Junior Golf Association (COJGA). Both programs allow juniors to compete on some of the area’s best courses while keeping the game fun.

“I have three rules for my juniors,” says Stuart Allison, director of instruction at River’s Edge, “be safe, be respectful, and have fun.”

Allison oversees all the junior instruction at River’s Edge. Programs include multiple three-day camps run through Bend Parks and Recreation as well as Junior League.

At Quail Run Golf Course in La Pine, juniors can have golf privileges for $100 a year.

“Juniors are the future of golf,” says Todd Sickles, head pro at Quail Run. “Golf is a great way to get kids off the couch and teach them the values of honesty and integrity.”

Initiated by the PGA of America in 2014, PGA Junior League has proven to be an affordable option for kids to compete and develop their skills on the golf course. Matches are played against teams from different courses throughout Central Oregon. The format is a two-person scramble in which each player hits a shot, the best one is chosen, and the process continues until the ball is holed.

As the demands of local area professionals are high in the summer, parent volunteers are a key to the program’s success.

“It’s impossible for head professionals to be everywhere at once,” says Lampert. “Even with the involvement of my assistant, Jared Lambert, parents play an essential role. Their role is clear, though. They’re there to support. It’s our job to do the coaching, and for the most part, parents seem to respect that.”

Since 1993, the COJGA has successfully hosted weekly junior tournaments in the area throughout the summer.

“Grow with golf is our motto,” says COJGA board president Ben Greenough. “Each year we have over 100 kids sign up and our tournaments average around 60 boys and girls.”

Much like PGA Junior League, parent volunteers make everything possible. Acting as walking scorers, parents help keep the pace of play and offer an encouraging word, not advice.

“Golf is an expensive sport. It’s our goal to make the game accessible for everyone and keep costs low,” continues Greenough.

Even during the pandemic, it has been all systems go for regular play on courses throughout Central Oregon — and it’s abundantly clear that junior golf remains a high priority.

As the weather continues to warm, the area’s courses will likely see more and more play from adults and juniors alike.

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