Ray Cisbani's junior golf camp is a little like summer school. There are lessons, physical fitness exercises, even tests — all in the humid heat of the dog days of summer. And that's the point of this four-day camp at the Links Golf Club.
"We have lots of fun, and the key with kids is to keep their attention," said Cisbani, who also offers individual lessons at the course and who is the men's golf coach at Saint Leo University. "They will have tests, for sure, but I want it to be fun or they won't want to be here. That's half the battle, I tell parents. If they don't want to be here, don't force them. Then they will look at it like school."
Kids ages 6-16 meet in the late afternoons and early evenings at Ray's Summer Camp, although most golf camps are in the early morning. Cisbani realizes, as do most professional golfers, that being physically fit helps the game just as much as hours at the range.
"We not only incorporate learning of the game, but other phases that are most definitely handy," Cisbani said. "We have fitness — exercising specifically for the golf swing — we have rules and etiquette, and there's always different shots we go over.
"We're not just always hitting a golf ball."
Rain or shine, the kids will hit the links because "the kids have to realize that (golfers) play in the rain. There's not exactly a rain delay like baseball," Cisbani says. Parents line up, sit in lawn chairs and watch as if it were the final round of a golf event. That's because Cisbani will incorporate skills competitions, similar to what a viewer sees on the Golf Channel show, The Big Break. He also teaches students how to hit shots left to right and vice versa. To include parent events more, he'll have the kids develop a golf swing for parents.
"Kids love to feel like they're teaching their parents something," said Cisbani, who has been teaching junior golf since 1985. "I've been doing that for years."
At the end of the week, the kids will play in a nine-hole golf tournament.
However, they have to have been paying attention or they probably won't pass Cisbani's random pop quizzes or the written test, either.
"For the younger players, it's basically letting them know there are six basic fundamentals to the golf swing," Cisbani said. "And I always like to quiz them to make sure they are paying attention to what I say, but it also lets me know they are picking things up."
Camper Brooke Deal is picking things up. The 13-year-old has been golfing only about eight months, but was more absorbent than a sponge when it came to picking up Cisbani's lessons.
"I think it's a lot of fun, but I really want to improve," Brooke said. "My short game can improve a lot, and I like that we have to exercise at this camp. Others might not like it, but I do."
Cisbani has experienced players, too, such as Isaac Schaefer, 17, who plays at Mitchell High. Schaefer has been taking lessons for about five years and hasn't missed one of the camps.
"There's more things set up than other camps," Schaefer said. "There's more lessons at each part of the camp than at other (camps), so I know I will learn more. What he does is put in a lot of shots you might not usually see, which is great because then you know what to do if you have that shot."
That's why Cisbani wants the kids to learn golf. This isn't just a way to kill time.
"It's not just hitting (the golf ball) and a bunch of swings and it's not just baby-sitting," Cisbani said. "They come to learn. We want them to learn the game."
Community sports editor Mike Camunas can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 544-1771.