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PGA Golf Professional Roy Pace came to Brunswick County a few weeks ago for the dedication of the Roy Pace Wee Links Course at Cinghiale Creek, home of The First Tee of Brunswick County.
Before the opening ceremonies, I had a chance to sit down and talk with Roy in the Learning Center. I came away in awe.
This is a good guy with a long history as a PGA Tour Player, a club pro, award-winning teacher, writer, president of a chapter of The First Tee in Texas, and now the designer of Wee Links Golf, a concept I believe will bring golf into mainstream U.S.A.
First, let me tell you about Roy.
Roy grew up in Longview, Texas. He started playing golf at the age of 6, worked at a golf course as he was growing up and went to Louisiana Tech on a golf scholarship.
“I went directly on the Tour from college and played two years but with limited results,” Roy said. “Then I got a job as an assistant pro at Wee Burn Country Club in Darien, Connecticut. I stayed there for two years, then went back on the Tour, with much more success.”
Roy played the big tour for eight years and won numerous tournaments, including the Magnolia Classic in 1971.
“I had a great time on tour and became friends with many of the players, including Lee Trevino and Don January,” he said. “In 1976, I went back to Wee Burn as the head golf professional and stayed there for 24 years.”
While living in Connecticut, Roy became known as an excellent teacher of the game of golf and was recognized by the Metropolitan New York PGA as teacher of the year in 1971 and Professional of the Year in 1972. He wrote “Target Golf,” a golf instructional book that sold more than 30,000 copies.
In 1999, Roy decided his heart was back in Texas and with two partners built the Alpine Target Golf facility in Longview. This is a complete teaching facility with a lighted nine-hole par-3 course called the “Divine Nine.” There’s also a 50-station partially covered driving range with grass tees and mats and a fully equipped pro shop.
“My other instructors and I worked with adults and junior golfers,” he said. “When I learned about The First Tee, we applied for and got a chapter designation.”
With its lighted range and par-3 course, Alpine Target Golf was busy year-round. From 2004-08, Roy Pace was named one the Top 50 Instructors in America by Golf Range Magazine.
One day, Roy looked at a parcel of land that was just sitting there and the proverbial light bulb went off over his head.
“We had an acre of land that we were not using for anything,” he said. “We wanted an area for young children, so we put up a small course using SNAG equipment.”
(Starting New At Golf equipment is made for indoor use and often used to teach golf indoors, like in a school gymnasium).
“We set up a few holes and it worked OK,” he said, “but then I started thinking. What if we made a real course on that acre of land? We could use artificial turf for the greens, real grass for the rest. We could put in trees and landscaping. It would be a course where young children could learn to play real golf. It would be a place for juniors and adult golfers to practice short shots.”
One idea followed another. The course would use 8-inch cups rather than the normal-size ones. Since regular golf balls could be dangerous in a small area, Roy decided to use the “Almost Golf Ball,” which goes about one-third the distance of a regulation ball. Blue turf could be used for water hazards. White turf could designate bunkers. Red and yellow stakes could show lateral and regular hazards. Out-of-bounds markers could be used.
“Everyone could play and learn the rules of golf,” Roy said. “We built six holes on our acre of land and then we ran a contest among the kids to name it. One young boy suggested ‘Wee Links,’ and suddenly I knew it was perfect. The club where I had worked for 24 years was called Wee Burn, which means ‘little creek’ in Gaelic. Our course would be called Wee Links.”
Today the Wee Links Course in Longview, Texas, is crowded with kids and adults.
“It’s been a huge success,” Roy said. “Because you can see the whole area at once from a viewing area, we can have 25 kids playing at the same time with one adult teacher supervising them. That allows more kids to play at once with less supervision.
“Because the holes are from 30 to 70 yards long and the cups are 8 inches wide, kids and beginning golfers get instant gratification. Everyone has a chance of getting a par, or a birdie or even a hole-in-one. Playing a six-hole match on a Wee Links course can take 15 minutes. We can run tournaments; individual events, teams, best balls, captain’s choice (scramble) on our Wee Links course. A gallery of parents and friends can watch the whole tournament at once. We have birthday parties on our Wee Links. It’s become hugely popular.
“The best part is seeing the faces of the kids and new golfers as they try golf for the first time. They get so excited. It’s like Putt-Putt golf, yet more like real golf on a real course.”
On Aug. 22, the second-ever Roy Pace Week Links opened in Brunswick County at Cinghiale Creek, home of The First Tee of Brunswick County (see the related story in The First Tee Box on page 11B).
Imagine the possibilities of Wee Links golf: more chapters of The First Tee around the world building Wee Links courses; inner city chapters of The First Tee or Boys and Girls Clubs could build a course in a park or vacant lot.
Schools could have Wee Links golf courses next to their baseball and football fields. It’s perfect for campgrounds, state and county parks. Hotels and resorts could provide outdoor fun for their guests on a Wee Links Course.
“If we make the course portable, it could be set up at convention centers, stadiums or large parking lots,” Roy said.
“The beauty of golf, whether it’s putt-putt golf, Wee Links, nine-hole courses or full-size facilities, is this: Golf gets parents and kids out of the house and into the fresh air and sunshine. It allows everyone to play the game, no one sits on the bench in this sport. Special needs kids can play our course, senior citizens can play. Little children can learn the game in a safe environment.”
I see nothing but exciting things in store for Roy and his Wee Links courses.
GOLF GAB GROANER
Gertrude was disgusted with husband Larry because all he wanted to do was golf. One night at the dinner table, she finally spoke up.
“Why on earth do you play so much golf?” she asked.
Larry patted his ample stomach, leaned back in his chair and said, “Golf keeps me in shape,” he said.
“In shape for what?” asked his wife sarcastically.
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at email@example.com.