Cloudy skies covered the Escalon Golf Course like a canopy on Saturday, March 2, but that did not prevent The First Tee of Central Valley from having an open house from 10 a.m. to noon.
This is the second year that the First Tee organization has used the facilities at the Escalon Golf Course. Program manager Charlie Floyd and a few volunteers, like Coach Scott Baker, Jerry Emery, and Dan Richards were on hand to coach current members and share the program with new ones.
Floyd has been an assistant golf coach for boys and girls at Riverbank High School for the past five years. RHS students also use the Escalon course to practice their golf skills.
“Escalon is awesome,” said Floyd. “It’s an awesome program and we teach good golf too.”
New participants will use beginner equipment by a company called S.N.A.G. (Starting New At Golf). The balls that they start out with look like tennis balls but smaller, and are designed to feel like a golf ball when hit. Out on the driving range there are targets with Velcro and a goal post set up so that new golfers can get a sense of accomplishment when they see where their ball has gone.
“Golf is a game, it should be fun,” stated Floyd.
The Del Rio Country Club Foundation (DRCCF) started the First Tee of Modesto Chapter in 2003. In 2011, they changed their chapter name from The First Tee of Modesto to the First Tee of Central Valley because of growth and success of the program, spreading throughout the region. The program affiliates in the Central Valley are Modesto, Tracy, Escalon, and new this year is Merced. There are First Tee chapters all around the United States and some international locations.
Participants of the First Tee program are boys and girls between the ages of five and 17. The First Tee teaches the youngsters life skills by using the game of golf to do it. They have a specific curriculum and teach the students nine core values. The nine core values are honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment. As part of the program, the youths need to memorize the nine values and know their meaning. All the chapters follow the same curriculum and use the same equipment so if you move you can transfer to a new chapter in the area. There are three 10-week sessions starting in March and continuing through October. The program has five main levels and each level is based upon age and time within the program. When a level has been completed the participant receives a certificate and are promoted to the next level.
“All nine of those (core values) are part of golf,” said Floyd, with the game requiring those life skills on the course.
Since the sessions are 10 weeks long, they focus on one core value each week. The newcomers start out in the ‘PLAYer’ level where they address playing the game and learning what to do while playing the game. According to the program guidelines, this will help them appreciate the rules and etiquette that go along with the game. The other levels are Par, Birdie, Eagle, and finally the top level called Ace. The golf clinic is held one day during the week for one hour and on Saturday.
Once a year they have an event called The First Tee Open at Pebble Beach. Out of 240 chapters across the country, they will pick 72 students to play with the senior tour players at Pebble Beach. The qualifications are each student must have a good community service résumé, write an essay, go through an interview process, and also show the ability to play good golf.
The First Tee organization is also looking for volunteers to help with their golf sessions. Floyd expressed that you do not have to be a golfer to be a volunteer. They want volunteers that want to make a positive impact on the youth and there are several other positions than instructing golf.
“Life skills are definitely something that sticks with the kids for the rest of their lives so its tools they can use forever,” stated Floyd.
Emery added that the First Tee program based in Escalon is soliciting financial donations to help support the program.
“We had 62 kids, ages 5 to 17, signed up last year from Escalon, Oakdale, and Riverbank areas,” Emery said of the program’s success in its inaugural year.
Any support is appreciated, with corporate sponsorship to keep the program going being sought as well.
For more information visit the website at thefirstteecentralvalley.org or call (209) 543-9715.