Golf for girls

Lili McGraw lines up a putt on her first day of participating in a unique golf program through the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastside. Clay Lambert / Review

Michelle Hernandez addresses a pink golf ball on a carpet of green grass under a powder blue sky. She is on the first fairway at the Half Moon Bay Golf Links, aiming at a pin 150 yards away but a goal that once seemed completely out of sight.

She swings and the club contacts ball with the same “ping” you hear from professionals. The pink ball soars against the blue and lands just short of the green.

Improbably, perhaps, the Cunha Intermediate School student is a golfer.

She is one of 11 young Coastside girls who have been taking part in a unique partnership between the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastside, the golf course and a cadre of mentors. Three years in, the program continues to attract new girls, and some of the old hands are now eyeing a spot on the Half Moon Bay High School golf team.

It began when local golfer Virginia Perry noticed there were no girls on the course.

“My house is right over there, by that bunker,” she said, on Thursday on the practice green. She was pointing beyond the first tee, where several girls and their mentors had just barreled over cart paths for their two hours of play. “I looked out and there are no girls, ever. Only boys.

“I wanted to change that,” she said.

She approached Boys and Girls Club of the Coastside Executive Director Judith Guerrero, who was enthusiastic about the idea, and brokered a meeting between Guerrero and Half Moon Bay Golf Links General Manager Bill Troyanoski.

The idea pleased everyone involved as a way to help girls succeed and further the interests of golf generally. It didn’t hurt that the first class of girls in the program got an audience with Lucy Li, the then-11-year-old sensation from Redwood Shores who had just qualified at the Half Moon Bay Golf Links for the U.S. Open. Li became the youngest ever to qualify for the tournament and an instant inspiration for the Half Moon Bay girls.

The golf course allows the girls to play for $5 a session through the “Youth on Course” program.

The girls get instruction from Montara resident Carol Gossett, who is the head golf professional at Shoreline Golf Links in Mountain View. They get clubs and continuing support from mentors like Martha Huddle and Judy Kocher.

Today, there are three sessions — spring, summer and fall — and some of the girls have been playing since 2014.

Mitzi Hernandez is Michelle’s sister and her confidence at the first tee is impressive. She and others in her group, who range in age from 12 to 18, say they have no plans to ever give up the game and some want to try out for the high school team when they get to Half Moon Bay High School.

“We just wanted to try something new,” she said. “Not many girls do golf.”

That is precisely the point, says Guerrero. Golf is not only a worthwhile pursuit in its own right, it teaches life skills and breaks down barriers.

“They get so much more than playing golf,” she said. “They learn life and leadership skills. They learn to support each other, whether they are playing well or not.”

If these girls continue to play competitively at Half Moon Bay High School, they won’t be breaking entirely new ground. There is no girls golf team, but three girls are currently playing on the boys team, including Randi Marshall, who is a top-six competitor whose scores count on the team card.

School Athletic Director Justin Ferdinand says he would be happy to start a girls team in the fall if there is enough interest.

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