Adam Shinder/Recorder staff Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course club professional Joe Merendo, left, gives Lucas Ellington some pointers Tuesday during Merendo's junior golf clinic.
Adam Shinder/Recorder staff Rhys Urbanczyk, left, and Ryan Bresonis, right, go through warm-up exercises Tuesday during a junior golf clinic at the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.
Adam Shinder/Recorder staff Maddix Cichy lines up a shot on the practice range during a junior golf clinic Tuesday at the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.
By ADAM SHINDER
The swings weren't PGA pretty and the wet grass on the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course practice range was rapidly turning into a mess of mud-filled divots, but Joe Merendo didn't particularly care about the mostly unrefined technique of his pack of students Tuesday morning.
After all, with how young they all were, there's plenty of time to learn.
Merendo, the longtime club professional at Amsterdam Muni, opened his 30th annual free junior golf clinic at the course on a muggy Tuesday morning, with more than 20 local boys and girls -- most of them 10 years old or younger -- on hand to learn from Merendo and a gaggle of assistants.
"They started probably at the age of 5, and that's rewarding," Merendo said. "Get them young, so they can say, 'Golf is my sport. It's not baseball, it's not basketball, it's not football. I'm gonna play golf.'"
Merendo started the clinic in 1981 when he was the pro at Antlers Golf Course -- now Rolling Hills Country Club -- in Fort Johnson, with former pro golfer Bert Yancey on hand as a guest instructor. Since moving to Amsterdam Muni a few years later, the clinic has become an annual tradition, starting initially as a slate of Sunday sessions throughout the summer before Merendo eventually settled on the current two-day format.
"As we went on, I thought maybe a two-day camp would be a little bit more intense for them, and that's how we ended up with the camp that we have," Merendo said.
With the clinic now spanning into its fourth different decade of operation, Merendo can see the family ties form throughout generations of golfers that he's taken under his wing. His deputy instructors at the clinic learned under him, and many of the students at this year's clinic are children of former pupils of his.
"I may even have some grandchildren (of former students) out there," he said.
For Merendo, the annual clinic is a chance to entice a younger generation to commit to golf as their primary sport. He admitted there's competition from plenty of other sports -- with plenty of other camps running concurrently to his -- and that, especially for older students, there's pressure to play sports like baseball or basketball year-round, leaving golf courses starving for younger players.
"It really is getting thin, because there are so many other sports going on at the same time," Merendo said. "You've got AAU basketball, baseball, now they're starting to do weight training for football. That's leaving golf pretty thin."
"They want the kids to play winter sports in the summer," he said. "Golf, unfortunately, is on the low end."
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