First Tee program in Ohio busily developing golfers of the future

First Tee golfers
Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America
The First Tee program was established to serve underprivileged kids, but is open to all youngsters.
By
Dave Hackenberg
The Blade

Series: PGA

Published: Monday, February 22, 2016 | 12:06 p.m.
 
TOLEDO, Ohio – I know some golf nuts. It's a well-deserved label. It's why some area courses had bunches of cars in their lots this past February weekend despite wind gusts and temperatures registering in about equal numbers. Any chance to play.
 
And if the nuts weren't playing the last three days they were probably at the Toledo Golf Show at Tam-O-Shanter in Sylvania.
 
There were upward of 75 exhibitors selling every conceivable type of equipment and fashion, offering deals at local courses, representing destination courses from northern Michigan to Virginia, letting the nuts take their shots at/in a simulator, and offering electronic swing analysis. There was a celebrity stage where experts offered advice from wedge play to mental preparation to yoga.
 
Hundreds, probably thousands, filed through over three days, trading money for bargains and planning their next golf getaway. The aisles in the big hall were shoulder-to-shoulder at times.
 
You'd have thought the golf industry was booming.
 
It isn't, you know. Not really. Not like the old days. Rounds played have been on a downward spiral. Courses have closed. When's the last time you heard of a new one opening in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan where, for sure, there are more holes than there is demand?
 
That's why the most important booths at the golf show were the two featuring the First Tee Lake Erie. Here is golf's future. Not to get too carried away, but here is the future, period, for a lot of our youth.
 
The First Tee is golf based, sure, but to state its mission: "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."
 
The organization's core values include promoting honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility and courtesy ... all building toward physical, emotional and social health.
 
In this or any day and age, who can find fault with that? And if it also happens to open doors for some who will make up the next generation of golfers, dandy.
 
The First Tee has been around, nationally, for quite awhile. It was established to serve underprivileged kids, but is open to all youngsters.
 
Thanks to Chuck Benes, long involved as a PGA Professional and now as an owner at Oak Harbor Golf Club, the First Tee has been active in northern Ohio for more than a decade. But only in the past couple years has it established roots in the metro area, thanks in large part to the efforts of guys like Alan Fadel, a noted amateur golfer, and Joel Rupp.
 
The local executive director, Adam Reny, was introduced to the game as a caddie at Inverness Club and got a full ride to Ohio State University via the Evans Scholars Program for caddies. He knows well what doors the game can open and now he's doing his best to open them for others.
 
Through his efforts, some 10,000 local kids have been introduced to the sport through the First Tee's involvement in phys ed programs at about 30 schools and through the Boys & Girls Club.
 
They're projecting some 450 youngsters, almost double last year's number, will take part in summer-long programs at eight local golf facilities where the First Tee has installed coaches.
 
There is a modest fee to cover course expenses, but no one is turned away. "If a family can't afford it, we'll find a sponsor to take care of it," Reny said.
 
Benes, who was manning the skills booth for kids at the golf show, and Dave Sanford, the First Tee's lead coach at Crosswinds Golf Club in Perrysburg, recently returned from special needs training at the Ernie Els For Autism Center in Florida, so that will be the next inclusive step in expanding the local program.
 
"People know we're here now and a lot of parents want to learn about how to get their kids involved," said Reny, who welcomed a good number of guests to the First Tee booth over the weekend.
 
A major step for the organization is still a few months off – the announcement of a permanent First Tee Lake Erie youth development facility in cooperation with a Toledo golf club.
 
In the meantime, Reny, Benes, and others spent the weekend spreading the gospel of golf's future.
 
And all the other exhibitors, the ones trying to make a buck or two off the game, should have stopped by the First Tee booth to say thanks.
 
This article was written by Dave Hackenberg from The Blade and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.