MT. PLEASANT — When it comes to youth in sports, most say to start them young. Many professional athletes have said it’s essential to start sharpening your skills at a young age, and in Mt. Pleasant, there is plenty of opportunity to start playing early.
Golf is the sport for all ages. While sports like basketball and football see mostly prime-age individuals in their professional ranks, the golf circuit sees players from their late teens to early 70s.
In the warm weather of Southeast Iowa, golf courses see players of all ages. In Mt. Pleasant, children just a few years removed from learning to walk can sharpen their skills by joining the golf group “Young Guns.”
The Young Guns Golf program was founded by Jim Becker, and is held at the Mt. Pleasant golf and country club. The program is in its 26th year, and is currently headed by Panther boys golf coach Rob Zeglen. The program works with local youth and holds a tournament at Mt. Pleasant Golf and Country club every year.
Many of the golfers who join Young Guns go on to earn scholarships and play at the next level. One of those players is Natalie Taylor, who played at MPCHS and at William Penn University, and had a two-year stint as head girls golf coach at Iowa Wesleyan University.
Taylor joined Young Guns when it was first starting up. Her dad and MPCHS girls golf coach Kirby Booton wanted to get her into the sport early.
“My dad wanted to get my sister and I to golf because it was just kind of a family thing,” Taylor said. “I joined gun youngs pretty young, I think three or four.”
Taylor says joining Young Guns helped propel her golf career.
“I think it’s really important to get into (golf) young,” Taylor says. “It helps that muscle memory, and it helps you get better.”
Taylor credits Becker, who ran the group when she was little, with having a vision and the knowledge to teach the youngsters how to play the game.
“I think Jim teaches you more about the game, not just about your swing and how to be good at golf,” Taylor says. “He teaches you etiquette. One of the first lessons he had is how to dress on the golf course and where to stand when other people are hitting.”
Taylor grew up through the Mt. Pleasant golf system but came around before the times of the Mt. Pleasant golf scholarship that is given every year. Thanks to a local businessman, Panther golfers who are in their senior year are eligible for a piece of an up to $40,000 scholarship which was established by a local businessman. Many former Young Guns have went on to claim a piece of that scholarship.
“It wasn’t around when I was in high school, and I sure wish it was,” Taylor says. “For the people who have had the opportunity that have gone through that, I think it has to be amazing to be rewarded for your hard work.”
The 2020 Young Guns season will begin on June 10. Registration is currently open for young golfers who want to join the team.