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Youth Course golf program seeks growth for kids’ sake

Golf is just you versus the course, never mind a 7-foot center or 300-pound lineman. Golf can be played from age 5 to 85, and perhaps beyond. And locally, golf also is a place youngsters learn the Nine Core Values of competition — and life.

That’s a nutshell sales pitch about golf through the vision of two officials representing First Tee of Knoxville, an organization dedicated to educating young area golfers.

The First Tee works with Concord Park Par 3 Golf Course, 10909 Northshore Drive, led by head pro Keith McElroy, to make a difference in children's’ lives through golf. And that most notably includes young golfers from lower income families.

The First Tee’s Chapter Scholarship and Life Skills Education Program “shows them what golf can help them [do] in the future, not only on the golf course but in their day-to-day life,” said McElroy, also program director of The First Tee of Knoxville, about the organization’s work with youth 8 to 17.

“How to speak to people, look ’em in the eye.” Plus, “the Nine Core Values First Tee offers:” sportsmanship, confidence, integrity, perseverance, respect, responsibility, judgement, courtesy and honest.”

This highlights a six-week program involving three levels: Par, “which is starting out at the very beginning,” McElroy said; Birdie, “as their skills get a little bit better, and Eagle. “This is all based on them getting better in golf, not just passing the little test on the core values.”

A child must pass both “values” and “skills” challenges to advance into Birdie and Eagle levels.

Classes take place each spring, summer and fall on the course. Spring classes, taking place each Monday, are from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. for 10-year-olds; 11-and-older from 5:30 to 6:30. Current spring 2009 class has been limited to 24. “In the summer we’ll have 48,” McElroy said. “In the fall we’ll have another 24.”

Cost is $35. But if the family of an aspiring young golfer can’t afford the fee, funds from area tournaments “helps us do scholarships if they can’t afford it,” McElroy said.

McElroy added classes include “skits, to get across what we’re trying to do.”

Dan Greaser, a board member with The First Tee of Knoxville and former president of Fox Den Country Club, said he noticed McElroy teaching young kids how to introduce themselves to strangers who may play in their foursomes: look each other in the eye and greet. “That was a strain on the little kids to do that; but once they did it, it gets easier.”

Anger control also is stressed. “Golf is tough, it is very mentally tasking,” McElroy said. “It can wear on you, but don’t let your emotions show like that because as soon as you do, it’s got yah, and you’re just going to let that feed on throughout the rest of the round.”

Summer classes — no dates set — will be twice weekly, McElroy said. Fall classes, also not set, are once per week.

Helping the cause is a fund-raising tournament at Fox Den. Humana’s The First Tee of Knoxville Open begins Monday, April 27. Registration is 10:30 a.m. followed by shotgun start at 1 p.m.

All money raised at the tournament benefits The First Tee Education Scholarship Program “to widen the influence for those kids that, quite frankly, just can’t afford to come out here,” Greaser said. “These kids, when they come through, they’re going to be future members of the clubs around here.

“As a member of Fox Den, I’m very happy to have it over there because in the future we hope to gain some members and some good people out of those nine core values that they learn in golf right here,” he added.

In connection with tourney at Fox Den is Humana’s The First Tee of Knoxville Youth Clinic, from 3 to 5 p.m., Sunday, April 26, for children ages 6 to 14. Focus will be on driving, chipping and putting.

Concord’s First Tee outreach extends to “Lenoir City, Oak Ridge, Maryville … if they can get here it doesn’t matter where they live,” McElroy said.

Concord Park coursed also had a “Tiny Tees” program is for introducing children ages 5 to 7 to basic golf rules and etiquette such as “holding a golf club” and “counting strokes” and are made aware of some core values. Limited to 20 kids per session, this instruction is held from 9 to 9:45 a.m. each Saturday during spring, summer and fall at the course.

Also available is Concord Park course “beginner clinics, where we just teach golf,” said McElroy, who earned “Tennessee Section Junior Leader of the Year” in 2007 based on his success in “promoting the game through junior golf.

“We’re able to reach more kids that way, get them introduced into it and then we can feed them into our First Tee Class.”

Goals? “I’m kinda limited on space down here, so in the near future we’d like to have a indoor area and/or practice area and not have to tie the golf course up,” McElroy said. “If we ever get that next stage down here, we’ll be able to reach out and get more kids involved.”

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