DEL MAR — Matthew Clay, general manager of the Del Mar Golf Center, has been named one of the top 50 youth instructors in the world by U.S. Kids Golf.
This year there were about 350 applicants for the annual award that recognizes the most outstanding teachers for young golfers. It is the first time Clay’s name was submitted for the honor, which he said is not his alone.
“It’s a great reflection on our whole team and the commitment we have to developing junior golf and being involved with our community,” said Clay, who has been teaching at the center across from the Del Mar Fairgrounds for 10 years.
Winners are selected based on their experience with young golfers, time devoted to teaching youth, program innovation and creativity, parental involvement, communication and overall effort to grow the game.
“One of the cool things about our program is we utilize all seven of our golf professionals,” Clay said. “We also use two athletic trainers that are youth development specialists.
“A good portion of our program is athletic development along with golf development,” he added. “It imparts better fundamental moving skills — in particular skipping, hopping, jumping, shuffling, things like that — that are the building blocks of any movement patterns.”
Clay said the training also incorporates game-based play. For example, dodgeball, using large skill-balls, is part of every session.
“Most programs in the past have been traditionally technique-based and swing-based,” he said. “But kids — especially younger ones — have a shorter attention span so practicing for an hour might not be quite as realistic. We try to create as many games as we can that allow learning opportunities.
“We can see the increase in their athleticism and it’s fun,” he added. “Our main goal is that golf is always fun.”
Additionally, the Academy at Del Mar Golf Center features a parent night during which moms and dads “get to do what the kids do,” Clay said.
Each weekly 90-minute session, open to youngsters from kindergarten age to 13, is evenly split between golf training and athletic development. Class size ranges from 12 to 20 participants depending on staff availability.
Based on a grading system, each athlete must pass a proficiency test every few months to move to the next level. Golf abilities are indicated by hat color and fitness abilities are indicated by wristband color.
Sessions run throughout the school year, with summer camps available in June, July and August.
This year the U.S. Kids Golf instructor awards were given to professionals from 26 states, Canada, England and Kenya who work at public, private and municipal facilities.
“These coaches are honored as more than instructors,” said Dan Van Horn, the organization’s founder and president. “They create outstanding opportunities for young golfers to learn in a fun and rewarding environment that instills a love for the game and engages the entire family.
“Their ability to connect with students and fully engage them in the learning process sets them apart,” he added.
For Clay, it’s about more than golf.
“The cool thing is we get to be role models,” he said. “Golf just happens to be the vehicle we have to be a positive influence. … We’re fortunate to be able to do what we do.”
In other accolades, the Del Mar Golf Center was selected as one of the top 50 standalone ranges for 2016 by the Golf Range Association of America.