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Headline: Growing Opportunites For Female Golfers; AIC Is the Latest To Add a Women’s Golf Team to Its Varsity Program
For Immediate Release: December 21, 2016
|AIC - led by head coach Dan Lapierre - will add women's golf to its athletic department in 2017.|
Norton, MA — It is no secret that golf is a growing sport amongst the nation’s youth, as evidenced by the increase in numbers for programs like The First Tee of Massachusetts, the PGA Junior League and the Girls in Golf League, a New England based organization that focuses on increasing participation in golf for girls of all ages.
And when the MGA announced its intention to merge with the Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts, the nation’s oldest women’s golf organization, set to be complete in 2018, representatives from both organizations referenced the growth of the sport as a whole as the defining reason behind the move.
Well, the growth of women’s golf isn’t only happening at the state’s junior level, as it was recently announced that one Bay State college will be adding a women’s golf team to its athletic department in 2017.
American International College (AIC), an NCAA Division II school located in Springfield and member of the Northeast-10 Conference, will be adding women’s golf to its repertoire in 2017 as the school’s 21st varsity program.
In the midst of putting together a new team, the program’s coach, Dan Lapierre, a longtime golf professional at venues such as Springfield Country Club, Executive Links and Elmcrest Country Club for nearly two decades, cites the added focus on junior golf as a reason for its growth at the collegiate level.
“Kids are starting younger than maybe we did at that age,” said Lapierre, who is also a two-time Western Mass. Open Champion. “Once you start at that age, it stays with you forever. We are seeing that at the college ranks now… Kids are playing golf and other alternative sports now that weren’t there 20 years ago.”
He added that The First Tee as well as other junior development programs managed regionally by the MGA, WGAM and the NEPGA among others are major contributing factors to the increase in junior golf, a trend that has been several years in the making.
The PGA Junior Golf League is a prime example of a successful program that are being implemented locally. This particular program, which features a team format for boys and girls who are 13 and under, has seen a 233% increase in participation since 2013.
Lapierre also referenced the local PGA section in Connecticut as a prime example. “(They have) the new junior league that makes the kids feel like they are part of the (golf) community. They wear golf shirts with numbers on it. It’s been a mainstay and more popular than it was maybe 15-20 years ago.”
Similarly, Get Golf Ready, which is designed to introduce new players to the game, set records with more than 107,000 graduates and a three-year retention rate of 73 percent. The First Tee of Massachusetts now provides programming to more than 30,000 youth at one of its five program locations (Norton, Lynnfield, East Longmeadow, Boston and Hyannis) and through the National School Program which reaches more than 50 elementary schools across the state.
While the interest has been sparked by these various programs, turning an idea into a reality, something that Lapierre has been working on since he was hired at the end of the summer in regards to the new program at AIC, is no easy task, particularly in New England.
“It is actually very challenging,” said Lapierre. “You would think finding 5-or-6 six players would be no problem, but finding five or six women to play at an urban school like AIC in downtown Springfield that hasn’t had a program in the past (is challenging). It’s about getting the word out and trying to recruit.”
While trying to bring attention to a new program in an area of the country not known to be a hot-spot for collegiate golf, Lapierre has had to take a different road to finding his players, a road that might be unfamiliar to coaches with year-round golf at their disposal.
But that hasn’t stopped Lapierre, who was the head golf coach at Elms College in Chicopee for a four-year stint in the early 2000’s, where he faced similar hurdles to what he is experiencing now.
He said, “About 90% of my day is recruiting and getting people to understand that there are options to play golf in the Northeast. You don’t have to go down south (to play competitive collegiate golf).”
While his focus has been on international recruits and those who might not have considered playing collegiately otherwise, there is still been a local feel to Lapierre’s approach to fielding a team, a team that he hopes will step foot in a competitive match beginning in Fall 2017 as the eighth women’s golf in the NE-10 Conference.
With an array of scholarships, not only is Lapierre creating opportunities for golfer’s to continue competing at a high level, but also the opportunity for student’s to receive a quality education at the same time.
Once he finds the first four or five women to lead the inaugural class, it is his hope that others will follow suit.
While Lapierre’s recruiting focus has been outside of the Bay State, he continues to seek players from the area who might not otherwise have considered playing golf past the high school level.
He has asked for you to contact him at his email address (firstname.lastname@example.org ) if you or someone you know might be interested in learning more about the program and the opportunities at playing for AIC beginning next fall.