Winsted’s Jim Bunel Teaching Youngsters How to Play Golf and Have Fun. By John Torsiello.
Winsted’s Jim Bunel comes from a family of teachers. Thus, it is no surprise that he thoroughly enjoys working with young children, teaching them about the game of golf.
The 26-year-old, a B6 (PGA Apprentice) teaching professional with two more levels of study and testing to become a Class A PGA Professional, works for Suzy Whaley Golf, a “junior based” golf academy for young golfers of various skill levels, where he is the lead instructor. The academy is based at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell with other sites at Tunxis Plantation Country Club and Tunxis Fore Driving Range in Farmington. His main responsibilities are to grow the game and create a fun and friendly atmosphere to make it easier for kids to learn a challenging game.
“I absolutely love what I do,” said Bunel this week. “I get the opportunity every single day to help kids in an athletic environment. I come from a family where teaching is our way of life. Both of my older brothers are school teachers, and my mother just recently retired from nearly 40 years of being a teacher. I can't forget dad, who says he taught me and my brothers everything we know. And any questions I have about the golf swing I get to run it by Suzy (a former LPGA Tour player) and/or Bill Whaley (Director of Golf for the PGA Tour Properties), who are as good as it gets teaching the game of golf.”
Bunel was a standout all-around athlete at the Gilbert School, graduating in 2008. He played golf, basketball and ran cross-country. He was All-Berkshire League in golf his senior year, All-BL in basketball his junior and senior years, and All-State in hoops his senior year. He began his career in the golf industry working at Norfolk Country Club when he was a senior at Gilbert. He worked there for three years and then attended the Golf Academy of America in Myrtle Beach, S.C. in 2011. When he finished the program in Myrtle, he went to work at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield 2012, first behind the counter and then as Director of Junior Golf. He joined Suzy Whaley Golf in 2015.
Bunel has been heavily involved in PGA Junior League Golf, serving as assistant coach for Team Connecticut this year for the PGA Junior League National Championship. “The model is very similar to the Little League World Series," he explained. “Ten kids on a team compete in four groups (two twosomes, two threesomes) in a scramble format for nine holes. Every three holes is worth a point, with the winning team needing to reach 6.5 points.”
He said Suzy Whaley Golf had great turnouts for its spring, summer and fall sessions of PGA Junior League Golf, so the facility decided to form its own league.
“We play four to six regular season matches, select and all-star team, and they play other all-star teams from around the state in a sub-regional bracket,” said Bunel. “If you survive that bracket, you then qualify for the regional championship on Cape Cod, where there are three other teams from New England.” This year marked the third in a row that Suzy Whaley and Bunel coached Team Connecticut to the National Championships, held this year at Greyhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Az. Whaley’s and Bunel’s team finished fifth, with its only loss coming to multiple-time champion Team California. Connecticut had a 2-1-1 record at the competition.
The growth of PGA Junior League Golf has been impressive. From a four-league (Dallas, San Diego, Tampa, and Atlanta), 24-team pilot program, PGA Junior League Golf's popularity has exploded, as the program quintupled in size in its first national season. After a whopping 500 percent increase in 2013 there were over 700 teams in over 30 PGA Sections, with over 8,000 youngsters wearing their PGA Junior League Golf jerseys to matches. Today, the program boasts over 2,900 teams, and over 36,000 young players.
PGA Junior League Golf takes much of the pressure off children during practice and competition. Children can play with a partner, knowing that even if they hit a bad shot their partner can always pick them up with a good shot of his or her own. When participants become older and head to high school they are mature enough and mentally strong enough to endure some of the pressures golf brings.
Bunel says he has found a niche working with the team and other children.
“Working with kids is the best. I had Stan Staszowski (longtime head professional at Green Woods Country Club and PGA professional) introduce me to the game of golf. He happened to be the grandfather of my best friend, Adam Vaccari (one of the best golfers the area has seen), so that made things much easier for me to learn. Every day I went to Green Woods as a junior member to practice, Stan would drive down to the range and without me every asking, start to help with my swing. That has had such an impact on my life and the path I have chosen to take that it’s only fair I try to do that for youth. If I can affect a youngster’s life the way, he has mine I would feel great about it.”
Bunel also instructs adults. “I have a ton of fun teaching adults. If I had to pick one though, I would teach juniors. Cracking adults of old habits can be very difficult, but the challenge is always fun."
Bunel recently passed his PGA Playing Ability Test (PAT), an important part of gaining a Class A PGA certification. “You play 36 holes in one day and have to shoot a target score of 150 to 155, depending upon the difficulty of the course. I have some work to do, but I plan on competing more locally and in Connecticut Section PGA events this year.”
“Down the road” Bunel looks forward to starting his own junior golf academy. “I have a lot of work to do before that happens, but I couldn't ask to work for a more supportive team than the one I currently have at Suzy Whaley Golf. They push me not only to be a better instructor and coach, but also to be a better person.”
During the winter Bunel teaches golf privately indoors at a several facilities that have golf simulators, and is an assistant coach for the Thomaston High school boy’s varsity basketball team.
The golf industry is indeed fortunate to have Jim Bunel involved and teaching youngsters how to play and enjoy the game. Of course, with his family background it all seems to come natural for him.