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Golfers' Children Handled With Care

LPGA: With 30 mothers on tour, traveling preschool has been popular since it began in 1993. Some say they couldn't continue playing without it.

April 03, 2002|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One usually doesn't think of sports and child care as going hand in hand, but when it comes to women's professional golf, child care is a major concern.

There are 30 moms on the LPGA Tour, with 47 children.

So maybe it's not surprising that the LPGA has pioneered in providing child care for its members. Since 1993, it has had a traveling preschool, the LPGA Child Development Center. Children eligible to attend the center are between 10 months and 5 years and there are typically 10 or so of them at each tournament.

The auditorium at the Discovery Children's Museum in Rancho Mirage last week was filled with such things as storage cubby holes bearing children's names, a colorful playroom rug, toddler-sized table and chairs, and easels for arts and crafts. Also in evidence were a television, a VCR and a stereo. And a diaper-changing table.

A conference room at a hotel in the San Fernando Valley looks very much the same this week.

The equipment, loaded in a bobtail truck, goes wherever there is an LPGA tournament in the United States, which amounts to about 30 tournaments a year.

Last week, the center was located near the Mission Hills Country Club, site of the Kraft Nabisco Championship. This week it's not far from El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, site of the Office Depot Championship, a 54-hole tournament that begins Friday with Amy Alcott as host.

Instead of going off to a job, the moms who drop off their kids go off to play golf. The cost is partially absorbed by a sponsor, the J.M. Smucker Co., so the moms pay around $100 a week. The cost varies, depending on the age of the child, and sure beats bringing along a full-time nanny.

"If it weren't for the center, I couldn't play professional golf and also have a child," Danielle Ammaccapane said. "I couldn't afford it. It would either be have a child and quit the tour or don't have a child."

Ammaccapane and her husband, Rod Kesling, have a daughter, Laura Ann, who was born Feb. 25, 2000. Ammaccapane earned $252,000 last year on the tour but made less than $50,000 each of the previous two years.

The LPGA's day-care center was the first in professional sports, and since then other sports organizations, such as the PGA, NASCAR and CART, have followed suit.

The LPGA center was started by Tony Verive, 55, a former building contractor in Indio who went back to school and became a specialist in early childhood education when the construction business slumped in the 1980s.

Verive, who already had a master's degree in philosophy from Arizona State, got a degree in early childhood education from the College of the Desert. In 1991, he was the lead teacher at the college's preschool and also a Head Start teacher for the Palm Springs Unified School District when he volunteered to help out with day-care duties at what was then the Nabisco Dinah Shore tournament.

After Verive had volunteered for the same duty in 1992, the moms and the kids became so fond of him that at the end of the year the LPGA came to him with a plan: How about a traveling preschool?

Verive wound up with a new full-time job. He works seven long days a week during the golf season, although he'll take a week off every fourth or fifth week while his assistant, Ruth Peterson, takes charge.

Verive, who is single but has a 33-year-old daughter, loves working with the kids. He's not as fond of the travel.

"It's a nightmare," he said. "Loading up the equipment, going from site to site, waiting for the truck to arrive, unloading the truck and setting up the center--it becomes pretty hectic. That's the hard part about the job."

Verive said being away from home up to 10 months a year is also tough.

Verive usually travels on Sunday to the next site to start setting things up, although the truck with the equipment doesn't usually arrive until the next day.

At each site, there are volunteers who help out. In Rancho Mirage, Carol Collins, a grandmother of two, has been assisting Tony since 1994. Rose Marie Mentor, who has six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, was volunteering for a fourth year.

With fewer than 10 children at the center, they were getting a lot of individual attention.

When a visitor walked in, Verive was busy changing a diaper.

"You'll excuse me if I don't shake your hand," he said. "I don't think you want to do that right now."

Verive quickly wrapped things up. It was obvious that he is as adept at changing diapers as the moms are at hitting golf balls.

"I'm a professional at this," he said, smiling.

Asked how many diapers he changes in a day, Verive said, "At the Legends in Franklin, Tenn., last year, Ruth and I changed 45. I think that's the record."

But Verive's job is a lot more than baby-sitting and diaper changing.

A typical day at the center for the kids includes play-acting, working on a computer, lunch, watching a video, nap time, arts and crafts and reading.

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