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Students from Bristol Elementary School practice the fundamentals learned from the Vermont National First Tee Program at Ralph Myhre Country Club in Middlebury.
Program boosts youth access to golf
Published April 24, 2012
After about five years in the state, the Vermont First Tee National School Program is starting to bring more business to the scenic golf courses in the Green Mountain State.
The First Tee program, started by the World Golf Foundation, aims to introduce young people to golf and instill the game’s core values, such as sportsmanship and honesty. The program also has prompted more young students and their families to hit the links.
Once the First Tee initiative becomes a part of a local elementary school’s physical education (P.E.) curriculum, the goal is to connect the P.E. teacher with the golf professional at an area golf club. At Lake Morey Country Club in Fairlee, golf pro Bill Ross Jr. has seen a moderate increase in families visiting the club during the four years it has been involved with First Tee.
“If we can get the kids interested, and the parents interested, that’s a win-win,” Ross said.
First Tee officials encourage school field trips to local golf facilities, which usually give the students their first up-close experience with the game and the aspects of running a golf course. The Lake Morey Country Club did this for the first time in the spring of 2011.
“When they get to the course, we touch on a number of different subjects,” said Justin Bonnett, an assistant golf professional at Lake Morey. Those topics include golf course maintenance and other aspects of the facility, along with some time at the driving range and putting green.
Lake Morey is one of many golf courses that provides use of its course free of charge to the program, which also has drawn corporate sponsorship from businesses including Merchants Bank, Stewart’s Shops and MVP Health Care, said Richard Mihlrad, executive director for the Vermont First Tee National School Program.
Mihlrad said he is encouraged by school participation in the program thus far. A total of 75 schools statewide are actively involved with First Tee — far more than program officials expected at this early stage. To facilitate school participation, the Vermont First Tee program and supporting golf organizations cover 75 percent of the $2,600 program fee, which mostly covers equipment and training costs.
Based on the rising popularity of First Tee statewide, Mihlrad said he expects more participants to come on-board — an encouraging sign for the business of golf.
“I think we will see the positive economic impacts as the National School Program continues to grow and mature,” Mihlrad said.
Specifically, he expected clubs could get more junior members, and golf pros would get more revenue from lessons, as the program expands. Mihlrad said a school field trip to the Ralph Myhre Country Club in Middlebury prompted a few students to join the junior program offered there by golf pro Jim Dayton.
At Thetford Elementary school in the Upper Valley, P.E. instructor Philip Chaput said the program “has been pretty good about getting golf pros and schools in touch with each other.”
At Vermont National Country Club in South Burlington, golf professional Zack Wyman has seen the benefits of the First Tee program first-hand. Vermont National Country Club received an annual grant from the First Tee program, and Wyman said those funds support the club’s junior program, “SNAG Golf.” This gives local students an early introduction to the game.
“From that point, if they want to go forward with it, they have an avenue,” Wyman said.
He was supportive of the overall First Tee initiative, adding that it makes instruction easy for P.E. teachers and students alike. The equipment, such as Velcro targets with golf balls that stick, gives the instructors a fun, simple way to teach the basics.
“I’ve seen a P.E. teacher with about 25 to 30 kids [instructing the First Tee program} and it was seamless,” Wyman said.
The teachers attest to that experience as well. Marcia Barron, who teaches P.E. to grades kindergarten through five at the Rutland Town School, said the focus on values such as sportsmanship first drew her to the First Tee initiative four or five years ago. From day one, the students have readily latched onto the program, said Barron, adding it’s a great opportunity for kids who prefer individual, non-team sports.
In addition, Barron pointed out the annual training day that the First Tee program offers at Norwich University in Northfield. New teachers and also instructors who want a refresher are welcome.
“That’s a good support system there,” Barron said.
First Tee has also caught on in Pittsford, where P.E. teacher Lynn Gee will continue the program this fall at Lothrop Elementary School. Like many participating schools, First Tee instruction begins as early as kindergarten.
“I’m hoping that by introducing [golf] in school, we will increase interest outside of school,” Gee said.
At Manchester Elementary School, P.E. teacher Patrick Whalen said the school is implementing the program in all grades from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“Another goal would be to have our middle-school students visit a local range on a regular basis and get out to play at a course, a couple times a year, with some students who show a strong interest in the sport,” Whalen added.
The Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) of America has helped implement the First Tee program throughout the U.S. In the Green Mountains, the Vermont Golf Association (VTGA) has worked with a number of other statewide golf organizations to implement and support First Tee at local schools. Those groups include the Vermont Chapter of the New England Professional Golfers’ Association, the Vermont State Women’s Golf Association, the Vermont Golf Course Superintendent’s Association, and the Vermont Seniors Golf Association. v