Putting Green

Collin Small, 13, of East Mountain, stands on the putting green he built in his backyard. Collin has been playing golf since he was 9.

EAST MOUNTAIN — It was love at first swing for East Mountain 13-year-old Collin Small when a neighbor decided that instead of retiring their old set of golf clubs, they would gift them to a then 9-year-old Small and hopefully pique his interest in the grand old game.

That’s where the story began, and it’s turned into a full-blown love affair for the young man.

“I went out to the driving range with my dad,” Collin explained after receiving his gift. “That’s where I first found out about the First Tee program. My dad got me signed up and I’ve been playing ever since.”

Collin’s endearment to golf doesn’t end with simply playing the game. He also has a fascination with course design and layout. It seems a bit unusual for a young man his age to have an interest in the composition of a golf course.

But, as he explains, it just came natural.

“I try to get out to the course as much as possible. But, since I’m not old enough to drive, I can’t always get out there when I want to. That’s when I decided to build my own putting green,” the young innovator said. “I’d thought about it for a while. I went to YouTube and got some ideas. I saved my money up and bought the material.”

Collin shopped for the shortest cut of artificial grass lawn to best simulate a golf green. He added sand and pea gravel to construct the green which took the place of the family’s above ground pool in the backyard.

It was during this project that Collin, already a member of The First Tee program, signed up to compete in the PGA Junior League.

“I realized how much I enjoyed the competition of golf once I started playing. And I also found out I was pretty good at it. It’s something I really like to do. And the First Tee is a big reason for that,” he said.

Collin’s backyard putting green measures 16 feet 12 feet and is complete with a cup and flagstick. The young architect-in-the-making hasn’t ruled out turning the family backyard into a blanket of putting greens. But mom and dad will most likely have the final say.

“I’m most impressed by way Collin has already caught on to the fact of how to set goals and ultimately how to reach those goals,” said Jay Blint, Executive Director of The First Tee Piney Woods at Alpine Golf Course and Target Golf Center.

“To be that young and understand the process was pretty amazing to me. He knew to be better at golf he’d have to work on his putting. He’s at the mercy of his transportation because he doesn’t have a car yet. At least now he can work at home on his chipping and putting.”

Collin, ever the young creative visionary, looks to one day install sand traps to better simulate the golf experience. This should allow for bunker shots from up to as far as 40 yards away. He’s affectionately dubbed his backyard creation The Collin Small Short Game Facility and even had a ribbon cutting with Blint present.

“It’s interesting to note his neighbor gave up golf and starts another kid in golf to take his place in the golf chain. Collin is also starting to learn about the history of golf,” said Blint, who gave Collin a vintage 1934 set of Bobby Jones clubs. “That particular set from 1934 was when Bobby Jones went to work at Spalding. He was the first American athlete to ever endorse a product. Collin has love and appreciation for golf.”

Collin’s father, Tom, speaks glowingly about The First Tee Program and how it’s grown his son into a good golfer and even better young man.

“I can’t say enough about the impact Mr. (Mike) Williams and Mr. (Roy) Pace have had on Collin and his maturing process. The First Tee Program is outstanding and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to learn the game of golf,” the elder Small said.

(Follow George Whitley on Twitter @GPigskinprof)