Riverside Golf Course head professional Matt Ellis and Janesville Parker girls golf coach John Zimmerman founded the Riverside Junior Golf Academy 12 years ago.

The summer program has been instrumental in introducing and teaching the game to area youngsters.

And although soccer remains the fastest-growing youth sport, golf continues to be a viable option for many.

“Our program continues to provide kids the opportunity to learn and play the great game of golf,” Zimmerman said. “We know we’re competing with other sports, as well, but there’s no reason that kids can’t play both golf and soccer, or golf and baseball. A lot of our instruction takes place in the morning.

“We offer four different sessions through our academy—from beginning lessons to a chance to play nine holes as part of our nine-hole league.”

Two of the four sessions have already concluded, but Zimmerman said those interested can still participate in the Friday Junior League and the Friday Nine-hole League, which is held in the afternoon at Blackhawk Golf Course.

The first session offered is the Spring Starter that takes place over a three-week span in May and introduces the game to those interested.

The Junior Golf Academy, which ended Thursday, is an 11-week session open to those in grades three through eight.

The Friday Junior League for beginners is held every Friday at Blackhawk, with golfers getting a lesson first before playing three holes.

And the final session is the Nine-hole League held Friday at Blackhawk.

Anyone still interested in participating in one of the final two sessions is asked to call assistant pro Ryne Clatworthy at Blackhawk at 608-757-3090.

Many area players that have gone on to play at the high school and collegiate levels were first introduced to golf through the Riverside Junior Golf Academy. Several of them played at WIAA state tournaments at University Ridge.

Although Ellis said numbers in the program are down a little bit from past years, he still believes the academy is a great summer option. He also knows what the program is up against with kids have so many other options in the area.

“‘Zimm’ and I know that for the last five or six years, baseball has kind of been the focus for kids in the city and kind of dominates things,” Ellis said. “And we’re not trying to compete against that. We’re just giving kids another option.

“Our numbers for our beginner league at Blackhawk are actually up a little bit, so that’s a good sign.”

The biggest youth tournament for area golfers is the 2019 Janesville Junior City Tournament, being held Monday and Tuesday at Riverside and Blackhawk.

Those interested can sign up until Saturday at the two city courses at a cost of $20. Golfers will get a free lunch both days of the tournament. The tournament is open to all golfers between the ages of 9 and 18 as of the tournament date. Non-Janesville residents are welcome to participate.

Age groups are as follows: 9-10 & 11-12 year-olds will play nine holes each day at Blackhawk; the 13-14, 15-16 and 17-18 year-olds will play 18 holes each day at Riverside. Also, the 9- and 10-year-old participants must be accompanied by a parent or guardian for scoring. Parents and guardians are also encouraged to accompany the 11 and 12 age division to help with scoring.

John Barry is a sports writer for The Gazette. Reach him at jbarry@gazettextra.com.