Kids do say the darndest things.
“I want to hit my ball in the sand,” one child golfer confided to another Saturday at Tiger Point Golf Club. The youngster, barely taller than his exaggerated practice club, stood near a sand trap flanking the pitching green a few dozen yards from a driving range.
The boy was among a dozen or so 5 to 7 year olds participating in the First Tee of Northwest Florida’s golf skills program. Evidently, the group hasn’t covered scoring strategy – more experienced golfers know hitting into sand traps is detrimental to their score.
On this Saturday, though, instructor Tish Boozer has her hands full keeping the golfers’ attention. Boozer, who coaches Navarre High School’s girls’ golf team, unwrapped new training equipment – over-sized plastic clubs and colored tennis balls – while reviewing safety techniques and answering a variety of questions.
Boozer and some parents helped the children properly grip their clubs – after helping some decide whether they were left- or right-handed – and practice swinging the club from an “L” formed by golfers’ arms and the club’s shaft held above and behind their heads through the stroke and back to a reverse “L” on the follow-through.
Finally, Boozer directed the children to hit the balls onto the chipping green. That was the target, the green, from 20 yards away. Most of them hit their shots on the first try; a few golfers overshot the mark, a few dribbled the ball toward the target and – like their older counterparts – some sliced or hooked the ball wide of the green.
The children didn’t seem to care. After running out of ammunition, Boozer directed the kids to retrieve the balls, adding that each golfer should return with four balls. The scramble resembled nothing more than an early Easter egg hunt, without baskets, but complete with squabbles over who collected which bounty.
The hour-long session ended with the group divided into boys’ and girls’ teams for a contest to see which team, and which golfer, could hit a ball closest to a bag tossed on the green for a target.
According to its website, The First Tee “is an international youth development organization introducing the game of golf and its inherent values to young people.”
The organization sponsors a variety of after-school and in-school programs using the game of golf to reinforce values like integrity, respect and perseverance.
The First Tee of Northwest Florida was founded in 2003. It has provided 53 national school programs in Escambia, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties’ schools and 10 golf courses: Osceola Municipal Golf Course in Pensacola, Stonebrook Golf Club, Pace; Tanglewood Golf Club, Milton; Marcus Point Golf Course, Pensacola; The Club at Hidden Creek; Tiger Point Golf and Country Club; and the military affiliate programs at A.C. Read Golf Course (Naval Air Station Pensacola), Gator Lakes Golf Course (Hurlburt Field), NAS Whiting Field Golf Course and Eglin AFB Golf Course.
The mission of the local chapter is “to positively impact the lives of young people by promoting character development and life-enhancing values through The First Tee's ‘Life Skills Learning Experience’ and the game of golf.’” The mission is based on nine core values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
The First Tee of Northwest Florida participates with the Greater Pensacola Junior Golf Association, Pensacola Sports Association and Par Four Charities to involve young people who otherwise might not have an opportunity to learn and play the game of golf and learn its values.
For more information, go to www.thefirstteenwflorida.org or call 456-7010.