First Tee pilot program takes kids to course

Ten smiling kids from the Charleston Progressive Academy exited the Absolutely Charleston bus next to the Patriots Point Links driving range followed by their PE teacher, Ezra Cowan. They were participating in The First Tee of Greater Charleston’s pilot program to provide transportation to and from schools so the kids could be introduced to golf and The First Tee’s Nine Core Values at a golf course.
“We participate in the The First Tee’s National School Program and teach golf in our physical education classes,” said Cowan, “but that takes place using tennis balls and plastic clubs in our multi-purpose room at the school. This gives our kids a more realistic view of what a golf course is, how golf is really played, and lets us focus on the etiquette and other values inherent in the game. Golf is not typically a part of their culture.”
The pilot program grew from a discussion between The First Tee of Greater Charleston’s Executive Director, Bucky Dudley, and The First Tee’s Director of Regional Affairs, Ben Grandy. As they talked about other chapters in the country who bus kids to programs during school hours, Bucky decided to see if it was feasible in Charleston.
“Charleston Progressive was the perfect beta test for this program,” noted Dudley, “because of how Coach Ezra Cowan is such an avid supporter in the school and how close the school is to Patriots Point Links.”
After contacting a number of transportation companies, one agreed to do it for cost. “We were fortunate that Absolutely Charleston agreed to run eight round trips from Charleston Progressive Academy to Patriots Point Links for the price of gas and labor. We are extremely grateful to Absolutely Charleston for their help,” said Dudley. “I don’t think we could have pulled it off without them.”
During the eight-week program the kids received golf and life skills instruction by Coach Wayne and assisted by volunteer, Coach Mamie. They learned disciplines of the game – putting, chipping and full swing – and were introduced to The First Tee’s Core Values, teaching the young people how to apply these values while playing golf, at home, and in school.
Fourth grader JaAunna said that her favorite part of golf was putting. “It’s very different on the grass and a lot of fun,” she said. When asked about the Core Values, her response was immediate. “Sportsmanship is my favorite Core Value. You have to be a good sport or you may hurt other people’s feelings. That’s important everywhere.”
Fifth grader Malakhi said he really liked coming to Patriots Point Links where they had much more space and were using real clubs and balls. “Respect is my favorite Core Value. I use it on a daily basis. It teaches you to treat others as you want to be treated,” said Malakhi. He is already planning to attend a summer session with The First Tee.
During a recent class, all ten of the participants attempted an 18-foot putt. While many came close, the last participant is the only one who knocked it in the hole. Coach Wayne asked, “Now what core value is that? What did we just see?” The kids replied, “Perseverance!”
Coach Cowan noted, “Bucky provided the opportunity and the kids have really taken to it. We even had kids watching The Masters this year and talking about it after the tournament was over. We haven’t seen that before. I’ve observed how taken in they are during these trips to Patriots Point and I can see the difference when they get back to school. Golf has become more tangible to them. They enjoy it.”
Dudley said that they were targeting Fall for another program with Charleston Progressive Academy and also looking to add other schools. “Being able to offer these students this opportunity was great and we look forward to growing this program with sponsorships from our annual Golf & Gala and Absolutely Charleston.”