Written By ELIAV APPELBAUM Photos By MICHAELS COONS

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Christian “Cheeks”Wennes follows through on his putt as coach Mary Sweeney, flanked by Brigitte Dunne and Jett Thorson, offers moral support.

 

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Start 'em young for
a lifetime of golf

Patrick Mikenas, 16, started playing golf when he was in sixth grade through coach Dan Martin’s advanced player program at Rustic Canyon Golf Course in Moorpark. He’s still hooked on the game and so are many of his peers.

“In the past two years, golf (has become) more popular with us kids,” Patrick says. “A lot of my friends play it now. . . . I’m seeing more kids practicing. More people want to try something new.”

“Playing with friends is a big part of it,” says Christian Wennes, a 15-year-old freshman at Oaks Christian High School. “I enjoy traveling to play great golf courses around the country. It’s something I can keep doing when I’m 70. My grandpa (Howie Wennes) is 75, and he still plays. He loves it.”

“Kids can take lesson after lesson,” says Oaks Christian coach Mary Sweeney. “But to really learn the sport, they have to play the sport. They have to be on a golf course.”

group shot

From left: Jett Thorson, Cole White, Patrick Mikenas, Brigitte Dunne, Jesse-James Haraden, Christian "Cheeks" Wennes, Tori Roeske.

And though some golf courses can be intimidating for the novice golfer, a little creative thinking can help coaches overcome that obstacle. When Sweeney and fellow coach Dan Martin train 8- to 10-year-old kids at Rustic Canyon Golf Course in Moorpark in the summer, they’ll place cones at 200-yard markers. The imposing distance between the tee and cup is shorter and less daunting. Suddenly, these young players have a realistic chance of making par.

Practice doesn’t make perfect in golf, but that’s fine with Jesse-James Haraden, a 17-year-old junior at Oaks Christian.

“There’s never a day you play perfect,” she says. “There’s always room for improvement which is kind of good and bad. I know for me and (teammate Brigitte Dunne), we have to keep improving and we’re always hungry for more. . . . I love the aspect that you have to stay positive. In the end, golf is all mental. It’s all about your mental game. If you have one bad hole, shake it off and keep going.”

Kids can get a start on the greens at golf camps, held at many local courses. For the competitive player, PGA youth leagues that play at Wood Ranch, Calabasas, Rustic Canyon and Los Robles might be just the ticket. Also, many area high schools—both public and private—have golf teams. Oak Park fielded its first girls’ golf team this year and Westlake High boys’ team took the state championship last spring.


 

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Mary Sweeney

Coach to the kids

Oaks Christian’s Mary Sweeney doesn’t just coach—she inspires

It’s a glorious fall afternoon at Westlake Golf Course. School’s out and restless teenagers trickle from the Oaks Christian
campus to the putting green.

Mary Sweeney is 60, but she fits right in with this crowd of kids, offering encouragement and pointers to each player.

Sweeney is head coach of the boys’ and girls’ middle school teams at Oaks Christian and an assistant coach for the girls’ high school squad.

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Sweeney gets a closer look as Christian Wennes settles into his shot.

At practice, she crouches to watch the students’ putts, examining each muscle twitch while putts roll toward the cup. Sweeney is the quintessential players’ coach. She relishes being known as the “no-cut coach” and was devastated when Oaks Christian forced her to limit middle school rosters to 32 golfers after the 2012 season.

She takes players to In-N-Out Burger after matches and joins youngsters for 18 holes on the weekends.

She’ll tell players to hum their favorite song while on the links, and she smiles afterward when they eagerly tell her they finished with lifetime-best scores. She sends emails and texts to current and former players after matches.

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Jesse-James Haraden and her coach discuss approach strategies.

“She always tells me to stay confident, keep calm and keep playing my game,” says Christian Wennes, a 15-year-old Oaks Christian freshman.
Sweeney has a gift for making kidsbelieve in themselves. She tells them to turn off the “voice of doom.”

“The toughest thing to teach them is to stay positive,” she says. “Don’t let a bad shot get you down. Stay in the moment.
“You just have to make them believe.”

Sweeney, an Oak Park resident, grew up in Santa Monica, one of four children of Joan and Roger Laverty Jr.

Her father served in World War II but first he played for the Stanford University football team in the 1941 Rose Bowl win against Nebraska and was drafted by the NFL’s New York Giants.

When Sweeney was 13, her parents and a family friend were the only survivors of a Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, plane crash in April 1967.

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Brigitte Dunne shares a light moment with Mary Sweeney.

“The doctors told my mom she’d never walk again. She said, ‘Watch me,’” Sweeney says. “She swam every day for two years. She did walk again—and she played golf. My dad had to relearn how to read and write again, but they both made it back.”

Her love of the sport drives Sweeney today. That passion started at home when she was a little girl. Her parents told her to believe in herself and she shares that message every day. It is a message of love.

“My passion becomes their passion,” Sweeney says. “I love being around kids. They’re fun, and they keep me young.

“Every year I keep saying this is going to be my last year. Then you get new kids who are so excited—and you fall in love with the kids all over again.

“As long as the kids want to learn golf, I’m there to coach them.”


 

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Cary Schuman still holds the Guinness World Record, 20 years later

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Cary Schuman

Cary Schuman sets up the tee shot and strikes the golf ball into outer space. The ball is still orbiting Earth.

Watching Schuman drive a golf ball is akin to witnessing Michael Jordan dunk a basketball, George Carlin tell a joke or Jimi Hendrix play electric guitar. The greats always deliver

Schuman, 61, of Calabasas holds the Guinness World Record for longest drive: 463 yards, 10 inches, which he set in 1995 at the Royal Fox Golf Club in St. Charles, Ill.

“It was the perfect swing at the perfect moment,” he recalls. “It felt like slow motion.”

Schuman was 42 when he set the Guinness record—his previous best, set in 1989, was 411 yards, 32¼ inches—and he can still hammer the ball 400 yards with his red, white and blue driver.

Schuman’s prowess with a golf club has taken him to places he could only dream of exploring.

He has played golf with two U.S. presidents—Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton—and he has played on courses all over the world.

Schuman, who played Fred Brill on television's “Happy Days,” is trying to get his own sitcom on the air. It’s called “The Golf Father.” Think “Caddyshack” meets “The Godfather.”

Now the world record holder is sharing his knowledge of golf. He participates in long-drive clinics, corporate outings and charity golf tournaments. He relishes teaching children (often at no charge) about the game.

“I want to keep helping kids,” Schuman says. “Golf kids are our future.”


Foot Golf

The hot new craze that’s sweeping the links

There’s golf. There’s disc golf. And now there’s FootGolf.

Foot Golf

Courtesy of CALIFORNIA FOOTGOLF ASSOCIATION

FootGolf is the latest outdoor game to hit our sports-obsessed country. It’s a combination of—what else?—soccer and golf.

FootGolf is essentially golf with a soccer ball.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the sport: Players must kick a regulation-size soccer ball into a hole with the fewest number of kicks, or strokes, as possible. There’s a tee box, a green, bunkers and hazards—just like in golf. Games go nine or 18 holes per round. Cups are 21 inches in diameter, and holes are shorter than they are in golf, since most people can’t boom the ball like Team USA superstar goalkeeper Tim Howard.

The cost is reasonable: Most rounds are $10 per adult.

Lindero Country Club in Agoura Hills, Saticoy Regional Golf Course in Ventura and River Ridge Golf Club in Oxnard are local courses opening up their facilities to FootGolf aficionados as well as curious newcomers to the game. Lindero began offering FootGolf in August last year. Approximately 200 courses in 35 states around the United States are making fairways available for the relatively green sport.

For serious enthusiasts, there are several footgolf leagues.


 Where to play

When you’re ready to hit the links, check out these golf courses, all welcome the public.

Camarillo
Camarillo Springs Golf Course
791 Camarillo Springs Road
www.camarillospringsgolf.com
(805) 484-1075

Sterling Hills Golf Club
901 Sterling Hills Drive
www.sterlinghillsgolf.com
(805) 604-1234

Conejo Valley
*Lindero Country Club
5719 Lake Lindero Drive, Agoura Hills
www.linderocc.com
(818) 889-1158

Los Robles Greens Golf Course
299 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks
www.losroblesgreens.com
(805) 495-6421

Westlake Golf Course
4812 Lakeview Canyon Road
Westlake Village
www.westlakegc.com
(818) 889-0770

Malibu
Malibu Golf Club
901 Encinal Canyon Road, Malibu
www.themalibugolfclub.com
(818) 889-6680

Moorpark
Moorpark Country Club
11800 Championship Drive
www.moorparkgolf.com
(805) 532-2834

Tierra Rejada Golf Club
15187 Tierra Rejada Road
www.tierrarejadagolf.com
(805) 531-9300

Oxnard/Ventura
Buenaventura Golf Course
5882 Olivas Park Drive, Ventura
www.buenaventuragolf.com
(805) 677-6772

Olivas Links
3750 Olivas Park Drive, Ventura
www.olivaslinks.com
(805) 677-6770

*River Ridge Golf Course
2401 West Vineyard Ave., Oxnard
www.riverrridge-golfclub.com
(805) 983-4653

*Saticoy Regional Golf Course
1025 S. Wells Road, Ventura
(805) 647-6678
www.saticoygc.com

*These courses offer footgolf

 

 

Simi Valley
Lost Canyons Golf Club
3301 Lost Canyons Drive
www.lostcanyons.com
(805) 522-4653

Simi Hills Golf Course
5031 Alamo St.
www.simihillsgolf.com
(805) 522-0803

Sinaloa Golf Course
980 Madera Road
www.sinaloagolf.com
(805) 581-2662

Private Country Clubs

Calabasas/Woodland Hills
Calabasas Country Club
4515 Park Entrada, Calabasas
www.calabasasgolf.com
(818) 222-8111

Woodland Hills Country Club
21150 Dumetz Road, Woodland Hills
www.woodlandhillscc.org
(818) 347-1511

Camarillo
Las Posas Country Club
955 Fairway Drive
www.lasposascc.com
(805) 388-2901

Leisure Village Golf
200 Leisure Village Drive
www.leisurevillage.org
(805) 484-2861

Spanish Hills Golf & Country Club
999 Crestview Avenue
www.spanishhillscc.com
(805) 388-5000

Conejo Valley
North Ranch Country Club
4761 Valley Spring Drive, Westlake Village
www.northranchcc.org
(818) 889-3531

Sherwood Country Club
320 W. Stafford Road, Thousand Oaks
www.sherwoodcountryclub.com
(805) 496-3036

Sunset Hills Country Club
4155 Erbes Road, Thousand Oaks
www.sunsethillsclub.com
(805) 495-5407

Simi Valley
Wood Ranch Country Club
301 Wood Ranch Parkway
www.woodranchgc.com
(805) 527-9663