Girls, get out your clubs - you'll want to practice.
Baltimore County schools' girls golf program is expanding, adding another eight high schools to the eight that offer the sport, thanks to a $32,000 grant from the U.S. Golf Association. The funding helps enhance opportunities for female athletes by offering instruction and equipment for all involved in the program.
Baltimore County schools are among the few in the country to offer girls their own golf teams under a program called the Girls Golf Initiative, sponsored by the USGA and the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
"I think we serve as a model for the rest of the country, since we are the 23rd-largest school system in the nation," said Jill Masterman, supervisor in the school system's Office of Athletics.
She said the school system's diversity also contributed to its selection for the USGA grant, the second the county has received.
"The feedback we've been getting from parents and students has been very positive," Masterman said.
In an effort to boost involvement of girls on high school golf teams, the school system used its first USGA grant of $24,800 to establish female teams at eight schools last spring. The move boosted the number of female golf participants in the county from 14 in 2001 to 65 last year.
The county expects to have 160 girls participating this spring. The move comes as such stars as Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam draw attention to women's golf.
Wie, a 14-year-old prodigy, recently played in the Sony Open. Sorenstam gained attention last year when she competed at the Colonial Invitational, a PGA Tour event, becoming the first woman in nearly 60 years to vie for a men's PGA title.
"I definitely think that it has sparked an interest in golf for girls," said Sherry Greene, programs manager for the LPGA Foundation.
The USGA echoed that sentiment.
"We are very excited to support this initiative," said USGA President Fred Ridley. "By creating girls' golf teams, Baltimore County public schools is bringing the game and its values to a whole new group of students in the county."
Originally called the LPGA Girls Golf Club, the Girls Golf Initiative began in 1996 as a partnership involving the USGA Women's Committee, the Girl Scouts of USA and the LPGA Foundation. It aspires to create an atmosphere for girls to learn to play golf and experience competition in a positive environment, according to the LPGA.
"Girls are traditionally underserved," Greene said.
The schools already participating in the program are Dulaney, Hereford, Kenwood, Parkville, Perry Hall, Towson, Sparrows Point, and Western high schools. With the new grant, girls golf programs will be added at Milford Mill Academy, at Loch Raven, New Town, Woodlawn, Sparrows Point and Eastern Technical high schools and at two other schools, officials said.
Masterman found the grant on the USGA Web site in 2002.
From there, the county asked for an application and was chosen to receive a portion of the $1.3 million that the USGA was allotting for girl's golf education in high schools.