By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News
NAUGATUCK — A new initiative at Hop Brook Golf Course seeks to grow the game among younger players.
Hop Brook golf pro Bryan Nixon started a junior golf team — the Hop Brook Hounds — this year. The team is part of the PGA Junior League.
“We are excited to offer PGA Junior League for the first time at Hop Brook this season,” Nixon said. “We are hoping that this becomes a feeder program for the high school team.”
The Hop Brook Hounds has two age divisions — a 13U team that plays a six-match league schedule and a 17U team that plays in jamborees hosted by area golf courses. The team is for boys and girls, 17 years old and younger, of all skill levels.
“No golf experience is required,” Nixon said. “Assistant pro John Sevibas and myself serve as coaches and have seen good development this season. Some of the players came in with a little experience and are pretty good players.”
The 13U team, which has its final match set for Aug. 1, has nine players: Nate Testone, Jax Bowen, Joey Belletti, Luke Humphrey, Max Humphrey, Jim Scully, Joe Healy, Luke Jaworski and Noah Oliveira.
Testone, 13, also plays on the 17U squad with Vin Ferrucci, Paulie Schiavone and Aaditya Jain.
“I love being part of the junior team,” Testone said. “It really has been an amazing experience. It has really impacted my game a lot. A lot of these players are better than me, since I’m the youngest player, and it has pushed me to try and do better to try and keep up with them.”
“It’s definitely been a challenge,” he added. “The coaching has really helped me with the fundamentals of the game. I think right now my long game is better than my short game, but I have been working to improve on every facet of my game. I’m looking forward to trying to make the high school team as a freshman this year.”
The 13U team went 1-2-1 in four matches, picking up an 8-4 win over Waterbury Country Club at Hop Brook on June 27.
Bowen has been a key performer for the team. He recently participated in a drive, chip and putt competition and finished seventh overall and first in the putting competition.
Bowen won the 8-10-year-old division championship in his first golf tournament two years ago.
“I’ve been playing golf for three years now,” Bowen said. “I know at my age you would think that the driving part is the hardest, but if I hit a pretty good shot I can reach 200 yards. I do well off the tee with my drives but I think my chipping and putting is the better part of my game.”
Bowen credited Nixon with teaching him “almost everything” he knows about the game of golf.
“It’s really great to be playing on a team with my friends and competing against kids my age,” he said. “Before I started on this team I wasn’t too good. I was all right I guess, but I have really been progressing a lot this year. I think as a team we are all doing much better than at the start of the season.”