In trying to explain the correct golf swing and perfect follow-through to 14 energetic youngsters at Anderson Park last Wednesday, Carrboro Recreation and Parks SNAG (Starting New at Golf) instructor Shelton Higgins used an analogy he felt was relevant to youngsters.
“Strike a pose,” Higgins said to the generation fed a diet of Picasa, Twitter Pix and Instagram, with the obligatory helping of “selfies.” “Swing, follow through, and strike a pose for the camera.”
The challenge of making golf relatable to young athletes strikes at the heart of the four-week introductory program, which teaches children aged 7-12 the basic grip, alignment, posture, etiquette and the core values of sportsmanship, all through fun and engaging activities.
“We try to teach core values – respect, courtesy, honesty – but we use golf as the vehicle,” said Higgins, who added that the program follows a time-tested and successful format.
“We have lesson plan that are followed by each chapter. We go through training, and we all use the same course that generates success. This is our outreach program, and it meets four times. We also have our core (‘First Tee’) program which lasts for eight weeks,” he said.
While the programs themselves mean business, the tools of the trade look fun, colorful, and unintimidating.
“The equipment utilized as part of the First Tee National School Program’s SNAG initiative is modified, developmentally appropriate golf equipment consisting of oversized clubs, tennis-style balls, and a variety of targets,” the First Tee of the Triangle website ( www.thefirstteetriangle.org) stated.
Starting with SNAG for first-timers, young golfers graduate to different levels according to their experience and abilities.
“When kids first come out, they’re at the ‘Player’ level,” Higgins explained, “and then there are tests and book skills they have to know to graduate and go to the ‘Par’ level. From ‘Par,’ they go to ‘Birdie;’ from ‘Birdie’ they go to ‘Eagle,’ and from ‘Eagle’ they go to ‘Ace.’”
Higgins said the overall program is designed for kids of all abilities however.
“We work with everyone from the next Tiger Woods to the next, well … not Tiger Woods,” he said, chuckling, “But there are tons of kids with talent, especially in our (top) programs. Two of the top players from our program are a guy and a girl right now, and they’ve now played Pebble Beach. I had a seven-year old in my program who was a North Carolina champion.”
Begun 13 years ago as the vision of local developers and “kid advocates,” the First Tee of the Triangle has since worked with thousands young people in Wake County elementary schools as part of the First Tee National School Program.
“The mission is to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values, and promote healthy choices through the game of golf,” according to the First Tee national website (www.thefirsttee.org).
Having just moved to Chapel Hill from Norway, Tom and Tone Winsgaard saw a flier for the program at Scroggs Elementary School, where their sons Magnus, 12, and Jesper, 10, go to school.
“This is their first time,” Tom Winsgaard said. “We just found out about it yesterday.”
While most youngsters’ first inclination is to try to power the shot, Magnus Winsgaard was already ahead of the game.
“I like controlling (the shot),” he said. “I’m working on technique.”
Brandon McMahon, 7, echoed the mature approach to the game.
“I like hitting at the targets,” he said.
For Maya Peterson, 7, it was all about “smashing” the ball, and after the first lesson, she talked about lesson two the entire week that followed.
“I liked the hitting part,” Maya’s friend Mavis Harrison, 7, echoed.
Higgins was pleased with the turnout for the program, promoted through Carrboro Recreation and Parks.
“We started with 11, and I think we’re up to 14 kids now,” he said. “14’s a good number. I’ve had some classes with around 30. Usually I try to have around seven for each instructor.”
Working with Higgins was Garrett Davitt, who works at the Old Chatham Golf Course and volunteers his time with the kids.
“(It’s enough) just to see them get excited about the game,” Davitt said. “I just like being around these kids: they’re great.”
Carrboro Recreation and Parks recreation supervisor Charles Harrington said the program would likely be offered again in the spring.
“Our hope is to continue our partnership with The First Tee of the Triangle again next spring with classes likely in April or May,” Harrington said. “Once the dates have been established, they’ll be included in our winter/spring brochure which will be released in December for registration beginning in early January, and the cost will be $10 per person.”
For more information on Carrboro’s next SNAG program, visit the Carrboro Recreation and Parks website at www.carrbororec.org or call (919) 918-7364.
Higgins said he hopes the kids he’s reaching this fall will continue with First Tee programs in the future.
“We teach them the basics that build a strong foundation, but this is entry level here, so a goal is to eventually get them onto a golf course,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll be interested in one of our core programs on the golf course with real clubs.”
Like a perfect golf swing, the SNAG program itself all about the follow-through. All that’s left is to “strike a pose.”