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You have to have a valid membership to attend this event

You have to have a valid membership to attend this event

First Tee Gets Kids Swinging

By Ryan Ballengee

The driving range and practice green at Fairway Hills Golf Course in Columbia is often filled with all varieties of golfers -- both genders, all races, all ages and various skill levels.

Among this group of people is a small group of children, ages 7 and 8, practicing the same things as the adults -- putting, chipping and ball striking -- as participants in the First Tee program. They fit right in with their elders and in a few cases, do some things better.

The First Tee program was launched 10 years ago by the World Golf Foundation in partnership of the US Golf Association, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Augusta National Golf Club and the PGA of America. To date, the program has exposed more than 2 million kids to the game of golf at more than 500 facilities across the country. In the Maryland area, there are five First Tee chapters spread out among seven facilities.

First Tee introduces young people to the game of golf and teaches them how to play it at varying levels of skill. It also has a social mission through its Life Skills Experience. The First Tee seeks to teach kids not only about golf, but the life lessons and skills that playing the game the right way can exemplify. Those skills range from meeting new people and social networking basics to learning how to set and achieve goals.

Don Van Deusen, head of First Tee of Howard County, has overseen a program that has grown in the past seven years to now service more than 600 children in the area. The chapter has a coaching staff of approximately 10 people who are taught how to teach both golf and life skills simultaneously. In addition to the outdoor practice grounds, Fairway Hills also boasts an indoor learning facility where kids can practice their golf skills in the winter.

The kids range in age from 5 to 17. At the younger end of the spectrum, First Tee is designed to expose kids to sports, exercise and learn the very basic skills of golf. As children get older and grow through the program, the life skills they are required to learn are tougher to master, and the golf tests to pass the program are more rigorous. In the next to last program, kids have to be able to shoot less than 50 for nine holes in three different tests.

The cost for a child to get involved in the golf and life skills program ranges from $50 for six two-hour sessions to $100 for nine three-hour sessions. Along with the sessions, kids receive a shirt and hat, as well as coupons to come back and practice their skills on the driving range and the course. For those families who have difficulty affording the fee, there is a scholarship fund that may be able to subsidize their child.

The local chapter has been recognized by the USGA for their efforts. Earlier this year, the First Tee of Howard County received a $6,000 grant from the organization to help establish and grow a program for children with disabilities. Thanks to the money from the USGA, this program can now happen throughout the year.

Not only are children learning the game of golf through First Tee, but they are also learning how the game can transform their lives -- even if they never become the next Tiger Woods.

Issue 3.32: August 7, 2008