While many elementary school students spent the summer enjoying pool time and play time, 11-year-old Kyler Pennabaker of New Paris was among a committed group of central Pennsylvania youth competing on the golf course.
"I picked up my first club when I was 2 years old," said Kyler, "and I have been playing the game since I was 7."
But this is just Kyler's second year of serious competition, capped by winning the North East Junior Golf Tour Championship Tournament at Scotch Valley on Aug. 7, one of his seven wins this summer.
"The tour is all about learning," Kyler's dad and coach, Denny Pennabaker, said. "It's not about winning now, but to just learn and understand the game. They walk 18 holes, and the tour is a great experience for them."
This summer marked the 14th year for the North East Junior Golf Tour, which features a schedule of tournaments in Blair, Bedford, Cambria, Somerset and Huntingdon counties, as well as Pittsburgh-area venues.
Tyrone's Ethan Vipond won two tournaments on the tour in the 10-12 division this summer; Altoona's Andrew Ferguson was another tour winner.
"A lot of these kids know each other, and it's nice that these players become friends; it takes some of the pressure off," Pennabaker said.
Pennabaker sees many players beginning to learn the game as teen-agers, but said there is a definite advantage to picking up the clubs at a younger age.
"These boys who are playing at 10 or 11 years-old are learning the pace of play, rules, etiquette," he said. "They aren't just going out there and hitting the ball; they are able to anticipate the next shot."
These young players look forward to long golf careers that may include competing in high school, college and beyond.
"My goal is the play on the PGA tour,"said Kyler.
He often wears his lucky red shirt to compete, along with his signature Pittsburgh Pirates baseball hat.
Kyler practices often at the Omni Bedford Springs Old Course, but enjoys the added challenge of tournament play with his peers, a huge benefit of the North East Junior Golf Tour.
"I can tell he is maturing this year," Pennabaker said. "He's setting goals for himself, working on things that he struggled with the day before."
Kyler's family sees that he is learning more than mechanics from the game of golf, he's learning sportsmanship, respect for the course and other players, etiquette and commitment.
"Last year I had to push him a little bit to practice," Pennabaker said, "but once he got into the tour, he got competitive, and that gave him an edge. He's only 11, and he's still got a lot of growing up to do, but he impresses me."
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at email@example.com.