You can find them almost anywhere, even in parts of the country that leave you scratching your head.
New York? Yep, there are some full-time junior golf academies in the Empire State, places where kids can get daily instruction as well as supervised workouts and time with trained nutritionists. School comes somewhere in between.
New Jersey? Indeed, there are a few, including some boarding schools that include a half day of school and lots of golf, even though a good chunk of the latter is played in simulators or outdoors while wearing ski caps and heavy jackets.
Illinois? Minnesota? Ohio? Yes, yes, and yes. If you want to send your child to a golf academy for specialized training, there are more options than you can imagine.
Most are in Florida where every major city has at least a couple, some bearing the names of famous instructors – David Leadbetter, Gary Gilchrist, Mike Bender – and others with initials you’d recognize – PGA and IMG. But all have one thing in common: they are where 13- to 18-year-olds from Montreal to Madrid, Cardiff to Cartagena, Boise to Bogota to Beijing and everywhere in between flock for single-sport instruction in a boarding-school environment.
However, only one academy is set up strictly for girls. The G2 Academy on Hilton Head Island, S.C., is in its first year. It has seven student-athletes living in Berkeley Hall on the north end of the island and practicing at Hilton Head Lakes in nearby Bluffton, about 10 minutes from I-95 and half an hour or so from the Savannah, Ga., airport.
“We are the only girls-only academy in the world,” said founder Ray Travaglione, who also created the International Junior Golf Academy on Hilton Head. “I have more experience in the golf boarding school space than others, having been the first to enter that space in 1995 when I started the IJGA.”
Hold on a minute, wasn’t IMG, which started with the Nick Bollettieri tennis and David Leadbetter golf academies, the first international golf boarding school?
“I think I was first,” Travaglione said with a chuckle. “I’m going to say I was first until somebody proves otherwise.”
“Taking a step back and seeing what we created, seeing how heavily weighted the (academy business) was toward boys, and coupling that with me just becoming a grandfather to two girls, it made me decide to do something to really level the playing field.” – Ray Travaglione
First or not, the Brooklyn native was on the leading edge of what became a booming industry. Travaglione was one of those New York kids who set his alarm for 2 a.m. to get in line at Forest Park Golf Course. He won the Brooklyn Junior Golf Championship – “that wasn’t saying much,” he said – but golf was his summer passion, which made him an outlier in the Brooklyn of the gritty 1970s.
“I know a lot of people, in New York and elsewhere, who say, wow, if I could quit my job, I’d love to make a living in golf,” he said. “Well, I worked on Wall Street and I quit my job. I had enough money for one year. I put my wife and kids in the car, drove to Hilton Head and started (IJGA) from nothing. We turned it into an iconic business. We started a tour (the International Junior Golf Tour) and then opened up a high school.”
For a while he had some star instructors. Gilchrist led the IJGA for a period and then Travaglione hired Hank Haney when Haney’s only student of note was Tiger Woods.
With G2, he has taken a different approach.
“Taking a step back and seeing what we created, seeing how heavily weighted the (academy business) was toward boys, and coupling that with me just becoming a grandfather to two girls, it made me decide to do something to really level the playing field,” Travaglione said. “With the female (golf) training, the combined curriculum of empowerment and leadership – which I know are buzzwords, but they are important – we hope we can have our fingerprints on the next generation of great female golfers.”
What does that mean, exactly?
“The real goal is not to get these girls onto the LPGA,” Travaglione said. “If they end up there, so be it. But our objective is to get them a four-year ride to college and give them an opportunity to build on a sport that they can leverage afterward, whether it be in business or whatever they choose to do.”
There are seven girls now with three female instructors, one a former college coach and two who are in both the PGA and LPGA programs. In 1995, the first year of the IJGA, Travaglione had six students. The next year he had 17 and by the third year he had 40.
“At the IJGA we sold parents on the idea of their children getting a good education, meeting kids from around the world, and hopefully getting a full scholarship to college in a nurturing environment,” he said. “It was challenging for us because we didn’t have deep pockets. I didn’t own a golf course. We didn’t have a campus. We had to do something to figure out where kids would eat, live, practice, and go to school. When I sold it, we had 150 full-time boarding students in the program, which was pretty amazing. Had we had a campus I never would have sold it.”
He still doesn’t have a campus, but he’s put in a bid to purchase Hilton Head Lakes. And the girls live in a gated community with 24/7 security. Even so, instinct says that one of the reasons boys have been the leading driver in the academy business is that sending a young man to a sports-centered boarding school is easier for parents than packing up and saying goodbye to daughters.
“I view it as a fact that there is just a lack of availability,” Travaglione said. “There are a lot of girls-only boarding schools from Maine to Florida, mostly on the East Coast, but none for a specific sport. That makes a big difference.”
It hasn’t yet. Seven students does not constitute a movement. But the concept seems sound and Travaglione certainly has the track record.
“I’d like to be at 40 to 60 kids in the third year,” he said. “But then I have a different plan. I’d like to branch out to different campuses, maybe establish a West Coast facility. But right now, we’re focused on building this flagship in South Carolina.”
G2 Academy student-athletes Maya Beasley and Abby Kim. Photo: Courtesy of G2 Academy
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