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Former Gilbert Athlete Jim Bunel Helping Grow the Game of Golf. Story by John Torsiello.

POSTED November 06, 2014
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

Jim Bunel was a standout all-around athlete at the Gilbert School.

But these days he’s making a living knocking the little white sphere around, although most of that activity is confined to the lesson tee or coaching youngsters on the golf course.
Bunel is a PGA apprentice and in the process of “doing the required bookwork” to become a PGA Class A Professional.

He is employed at Middlefield’s Lyman Orchards Golf Club, which has two 18-hole courses, and a comprehensive practice facility that includes a scaled down nine-hole course.

The 24-year-old graduated from Gilbert 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 I finished the program in Myrtle, Lyman Orchards had built a beautiful executive golf course with a state-of-the-art practice facility,” he says. “I began working for them in 2012 behind the counter and am currently Director of Junior Golf. From a teacher’s prospective, I enjoy the challenge of a new swing each and every day to work on and make better over time. From an aspiring Class A PGA professional's prospective, I love that the game is growing rapidly at the junior level because the kids are the future, and need to be treated as such. The PGA Junior League Golf program is a great way to bring kids into the game in a laid back and enjoyable format, making the game more of an option when these kids get to high school.”

The growth of PGA Junior League Golf has been stunning. 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 has penetrated 36 of the 41 PGA Sections, and boasts over 1,400 teams, and over 17,000 young players.

This year, Bunel served as assistant coach of a Connecticut all-star team that was made up of players from four PGA Junior League Golf squads. The team’s head coach was Suzy Whaley, a former LPGA Tour player and well-known instructor. Players came from Lyman Orchards, TPC River Highlands 1, TPC River Highlands 2, and Goodwin Park Golf Course.

“Of these four teams, the coaches voted on all-stars from each team and put together a Hartford East all-star team,” says Bunel. “We competed in a state tournament, where we played different Connecticut all-star teams. The state final was held at New Haven Country Club, where we competed against a Shoreline all-star team. We won that match, 9-3, and then moved on to the regional championship at Hyannis Golf Club on Cape Cod.”

There, the Hartford team competed against New York/New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maine squads. “We won that competition and actually qualified number one in the country for amount of points won in all regional competitions,” says Bunel.

The team then competed in Atlanta at the nationals and finished fifth out of eight teams. In all, some 1,500 all-star teams began the competition that ultimately led to TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Ga., near Atlanta. Teams from California (champion), Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee, Texas, New Jersey and Iowa joined the Hartford squad at the event.

Members of the Hartford team were Maisie Filler, Phoebe Brinker, Ty Brinker, Chris Fosdick, Dylan Sartor, Eric Hagglund, Tommy Dallahan, Ryan Gorman, Emily McKenna and Will DePault.

“We received grants from the PGA Junior League and also the Connecticut PGA Section Foundation to make the trip to Atlanta,” says Bunel. “Lyman Orchards and Cedar Knob Golf Course did some fundraising, and Hartford Golf Club and Ellington Ridge Country Club were very accommodating in getting the kids practice rounds on some great courses.”

Bunel is high on PGA Junior League Golf.

“It’s for everyone, no matter age or size, you can always compete in PGA Junior League Golf. This alone is why it will help grow the game at a junior level because of the lack of pressure put on a child to perform. The kids like that they can play with a partner and know that even if they hit a bad shot, the partner can always pick them right back up with a good shot of their own. It’s a great way to grow the game of golf. Golf is unlike any other sport as far as retention rate because of the fact that a lot of kids at a young age can't handle the mental pressure that golf can bring. What PGA Junior League Golf does is eliminate those pressures by having a partner always there to lean on. As these kids turn 14 and 15 and head into high school, they are mature enough and mentally strong enough to endure some of the pressures golf brings when you are out there by yourself. To be required to do that when you are eight, nine or 10 is a lot to ask.”  

Bunel is also pleased to be working at Lyman Orchards.

“Lyman Orchards is a great facility to work at. Golf is just one of many things you can find at Lyman Orchards. It is a great family destination with tons of fruit to pick and a sunflower/corn maize to get lost in, and of course 45 great golf holes to challenge your game in every way imaginable.”

Bunel doesn’t get to play golf much these days, what with his responsibilities at the club. “I would say I played no more than 10 rounds this year.”

But, although he’s not often playing for his own score, Jim Bunel is certainly enjoying working with youngsters and others and helping to increase participation in the game he has come to love.

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