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PGA Professional Steve Carson coaches Special Olympics golfer Jeff McDonald during Sunday's Play Golf America Day at Lincoln Park Golf Course. (Photo: PGA.com)
PGA Professional Steve Carson coaches Special Olympics golfer Jeff McDonald during Sunday's Play Golf America Day at Lincoln Park Golf Course. (Photo: PGA.com)

Inaugural Play Golf America Day a rousing success

On a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Park Golf Course in Oklahoma City, more than 250 new and veteran players attended the first Play Golf America Day conducted in conjunction with the Senior PGA Championship.

By Bob Denney, PGA of America

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -- Under a relentless sun, PGA Master Professional Steve Carson of Oklahoma City and 20 South Central PGA Professionals reached out on Sunday afternoon and wrote a bit of history, celebrating with more than 250 enthusiasts at the first Play Golf America Day conducted in conjunction with the Senior PGA Championship.

The special chapter in Oklahoma public golf was etched at Lincoln Park Golf Course, a 36-hole facility that opened in 1922, and has been a home to both youth and adult municipal golfers for generations. Play Golf America Day attracted a cross section of some of the best success stories to come from Lincoln Park, and ignited a fire for the game in many others.

It was here that Rayshon Payton, an 18-year-old African-American and Tiger Woods look-alike, got his start in the game. Payton advanced his skills through The First Tee and is a college golf recruit today. Payton partnered earlier this year at Pebble Beach with Champions Tour star Gil Morgan at The First Tee Open. The twosome finished among the top 10.

It was here five years ago, that Taneka Miller of Arcadia, Okla., began playing golf and next month, will be joined by Carson, her coach, as they team in alternate-shot competition at the 2006 Special Olympics Golf National Games, July 3-5, in Ames, Iowa.

And, it was here that parents Curtis and Melissa Cory of Oklahoma City discovered that their eight-year-old daughter's love of golf was infectious to the point that they could enjoy an after-work nine-hole round.

Lincoln Park's practice range was a mecca for all segments of Oklahoma City society together, with PGA Professionals providing free 10-minute lessons. PGA Professional Andy McCormick of Edmond said "it is a festival" that brings so many different people together and "educates our PGA members on the opportunities available to them to attract new golfers to their facilities."

McCormick, PGA director of golf operations at Coffee Creek Golf Club and River Oaks Golf Club in Edmond, said Play Golf America Day in Oklahoma "is a tremendous opportunity for all our PGA members and golf course operators to discover how important it is to bring in more players in the game. I like to compare it to the original ads for 'Got Milk?' or 'Eat Pork, or 'Beef, It's What's For Dinner.' We have a good message that more and more need to spread. I think that we are on the right track in educating our members."

In 1992, Carson, a six-time Section PGA Junior Golf Leader Award winner, launched a Saturday free clinic at Lincoln Park for inner-city youth. That year, he received an award from the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission for his work in introductory youth golf.

In 1993, Carson began a golf program for Special Olympians, guiding some 20 athletes.

"I believe the PGA Professional gets more enjoyment out of the Special Olympic athlete than what the Special Olympian gets," said Carson, the 1999 South Central PGA Golf Professional of the Year and director of golf at Lincoln Park. "Working with them is the great reward. You see the smiles, the wonderful feeling they have in achieving. I've found that once the Special Olympian learns how to get a golf ball airborne, you find out that it doesn't take that long to see some great things happening.

"Today, it's a beautiful day. We are accomplishing with Play Golf America what we all work to give John Q. Public (1) Access to hands-on instruction; (2) Access to learning the game, and (3) an understanding that we just want to make it fun."

Lincoln Park's practice tee, a swath of turf that extends 125 yards from end to end, overlooks a wide, seemingly endless range that boasts a generous 385-yard fairway. On this day, PGA Professional Chuck Courtney and his wife, Patti, conducted a women's clinic, which was followed by PGA Professional Kevin Compare performing his renowned trick shot skills. The afternoon was capped by 1993 National Long Drive Champion Brian Pavlet, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, entertained the crowd by smashing drives that, despite a stiff headwind, used the full length of Lincoln Park's range.

"When I was about eight years old, I came here for Saturday morning clinics," said Payton, who is choosing between two schools to play collegiate golf next fall, while also pursuing a political science major.

"Playing at Pebble Beach with a great professional is something every kid dreams about, if you love the game," said Payton. "This course is where it all started for me in golf. I like the Play Golf America idea. It really is what the game is all about -- getting the best in lessons and finding that there are many things to do in golf. I encourage my friends to be part of golf. It's as good a game as there is."

Launched in 2004, the PGA of America's Play Golf America Day program was begun to bring back the occasional adult golfer and encourage all levels of our society to enjoy the game.

Curtis and Melissa Cory had joined their daughter, Carly, 8, at Lincoln Park after hearing a radio advertisement. Carly is headed to a Minnesota golf camp this summer, and her parents have decided that they could break away from their busy schedules to join their daughter on a nine-hole round.

"This is a great program to get a family involved in either a little or an expanded amount of golf," said Melissa. "It's become our family's form of entertainment, and Carly loves the game already without any prompting."

Play Golf America, designed to increase participation in adult golfers, was developed by The PGA of America, with the support of Allied Associations including: the LPGA, National Golf Course Owners Association, PGA Tour, USGA and others involved in the annual Golf 20/20 Conference. The program utilizes the www.playgolfamerica.com Web site to serve as a link for consumers to access fun, affordable and informative programs in their area.

Celebrating its 90th anniversary, The PGA of America was founded in 1916, and is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the game of golf, while continuing to enhance the standards of the profession. The Association is comprised of more than 28,000 men and women PGA Professionals who are dedicated to growing participation in the game of golf.

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