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Golf program aims to get kids involved in sport

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The First Tee isn't all about learning to play golf and as the season approaches, the West Virginia chapter of the program is beginning to get into full swing.

Josh Bower, who has been the West Virginia Golf Association Director of Development since January, said it's something he enjoys because it involves the development of young people.

"It's a good thing to get involved with kids," said Bower, who is spearheading many of the programs associated with The First Tee. "We teach the nine core values and we help them understand that golf is fun and doesn't have to be competitive."

According to The First Tee website, there have been 7.6 million participants in the program since 1997 in all 50 states and 5,300 elementary schools are offering The First Tee National School Program.

Bower said that 43 out of 45 elementary schools in Kanawha County have implemented the program, which doesn't necessarily mean the students are learning to play golf during phys ed.

They also are learning the nine core values associated with The First Tee: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

"The curriculum was developed by professionals, doctors and those in education," Bower said. "They learn the nine core values before they even pick up a club."

There are spring programs at Brier Patch in Beckley and Coonskin Park in Charleston. Registration is open for the spring session, which features six 90-minute sessions - two per week - at a cost of $75.

The summer program begins June 3, which also features six 90-minute sessions but extends to other areas of the state, including Logan Country Club, Lewisburg Elks, Locust Hill in Charles Town and at Parkersburg's Minibel Par 3 course.

The Little General Juniors First Tee is for ages 5-7 and costs $50 for one 60-minute session per week.

The age limit listed for the programs is 8-14, but Bower said nobody is turned away.

Bower also said of the approximately 1,200 young people involved with The First Tee of West Virginia, 48 percent of them are female.

"Our goal is to grow the game of golf," Bower said. "We have one of the highest female participation rates of all chapters in the nation. We're getting the girls out and getting them to understand the game.

One of the fundraisers for The First Tee program occurs during the Greenbrier Classic with the Odyssey Putting Challenge. A green is set up between the No. 12 tee and the No. 11 green. For $20, anybody can putt for a chance to win prizes. Bower said the parameters of this year's challenge have not yet been determined, but anybody is welcome to stop and take a chance.

The Tuesday of Greenbrier Classic week is Youth Day, when a golf professional puts on a clinic at the driving range. Last year's participating professional was Charles Howell III.

All of the proceeds go to benefit The First Tee of West Virginia.

"We're trying to get people out at the driving range, do group clinics and make people understand that golf can be fun," Bower said. "We offer sessions for women who might be afraid to come out by themselves. There are 35-40 girls on the Callaway Junior Tour this year and that's really good."

For more information on The First Tee, contact Bower at the West Virginia Golf Association at 304-391-5000.


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