HUNTLEY – John Walker, PGA pro emeritus out at Pryor Creek Golf Club, laments. It saddens, almost pains, the man golf locals know as “Johnny,” that our state has never produced a star player out on the PGA Tour.
Despite our long winters, and shorter-than-most golf seasons up here in Big Sky, Walker says there’s no reason why. We just need some good junior golf programs for the kids, to get them started early, he says. So by the time juniors get to high school, there’s a strong foundation to excel, and hopefully go on.
And they have that kick start program over at Pryor Creek. PGA pro Dave Doherty started the week-long program for newcomer kids several years ago. Now it’s run by Pryor Creek’s golf assistant Grayson Kunst.
The 24-year-old from Forsyth has headed the junior program for the last four years. Most in the program are green-as-can-be newcomers to the game, evidenced by their blue jeans and sneaker attire and their being distracted by chirping birds during chipping drills. There’s not a golf glove in sight.
“The kids now have a lot of enthusiasm, they want to be there, it’s new and it’s fun for them,” Kunst said. “And that the whole idea with the new kids, get them interested in the game, and keep them interested in golf.”
Forget demonstrations of the Vardon, interlocking or 10-finger grips from Kunst to these 11-year-olds. It’s too much, too soon, he says. He’ll move them back to normal when they get cross handed while gripping.
But the idea is to get them to take a practice swing, then swing the club, experience the cool feeling when the ball pops into the air. Or the excitement when the chip shot runs along the green and hits the flagstick target he’s telling them to aim at. That’s brings a beginner’s smile, and maybe a plea later to mom and dad for more swing time at Pryor Creek.
Kunst starts the kids with putting drills. The following day it’s the short game, basics on chipping and pitching. Then two days out on the driving range with the full swing. The final day in the junior program is an abbreviated golf tournament, three to five holes, following by a summertime hamburger cookout and awards to all participants. He works with two groups, newcomers, and an advanced group who where in the program the previous year.
His kids range from ages 9-13. Parents pay $25 for their first kid, $15 if there’s a brother or sister.
Cheap, yet fun. Not to mention giving the youngsters something to do, now that school’s out.
Kunst is a natural mentor. Folks tell him he needs to be a school teacher and coach, and perhaps he will one day. He has other aspirations, which we’ll touch on.
“He’s a good sport,” said Jesse Van Dyke, a blond lefty from over in Huntley. Nine-year-old Jenna Wagner says Kunst is funny. She also likes the fact “Coach” likes to give everybody a fair shot.
Perhaps that’s a little more important to the only girl in this year’s program, who sported some eye-catching retro pink Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers that matched her shorts.
Brothers Aiden and Evan Debolt wore sandals to chipping class. That’s OK, as was the down-on-their-knees break both took to examine a plump robin that dropped teasingly close between them while searching for a juicy worm down in Pryor Creek’s rich soil.
Not a big deal, as Kunst noted of the brothers’ breather. Jack Nicklaus once told the story of his 12-year-old son Michael, years ago, being more interested in chasing frogs out on the golf course than chasing his most recent hit down the fairway. The Debolts, and then Michael Nicklaus, are boys. Birds and frogs catch their attention and maybe one day, golf also.
Eleven-year-olds Jake Fox and Tim Rose play on the same basketball team during winters. That’s their sport, both say, but this golf thing seems interesting also. Rose lifts some nice pitch shots across the practice green, accelerating nicely through his shots, adding power with each swing.
Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer told this story countless times: How, when young and starting out in the game, his father told him to just swing the club as hard as he could. To get that feeling of striking the ball solid. Little Tim Rose was doing just that the other day.
That’s the idea, says Coach Kunst. Introduce them to the game, let them swing a golf club, hard if they want. If they wish to stop and watch a digging robin for a few seconds, well, that’s fine also.
Johnny Walker brought Grayson Kunst over to Pryor Creek to work four years ago. Walker saw a hardworking young man with a positive attitude, good around people, young, old and in between. A warm fellow, he starred in golf at Forsyth High School, and later played two years of collegiate golf at Miles City Community College.
This fall Kunst plans to fulfill a dream and play entry-level professional golf on the Gateway Tour in Arizona. His mother, Mary, set up a website, Send Grayson to the Gateway Pro Tour, for those who wish to sponsor the young man.
Could Kunst be that star Johnny Walker hopes to see one day on the PGA Tour from our state?
It’s a long, long shot, but you never know. Or maybe, Kunst stays at Pryor Creek and keeps introducing Montanan juniors to the wonderful game of golf.