2004: Our Opinion - Golf in schools earns an A+

Go fish where the fish are.

It’s a simple tenet that makes a lot of sense. So when the golf industry’s brain trust focused its efforts to develop the best way to welcome children to the game, it reached out to schools.

“In the past, PGA professionals had visited schools, and kids had taken field trips to golf facilities, but there never had been an effort to structure golf as a physical education program and mobilize PE teachers to teach the game,” said Ruffin Beckwith, executive director of Golf 20/20, an industry coalition dedicated to growing the game.

Inspired by research that revealed that children who are introduced to golf in a structured manner are six times more likely to become active adult players, Golf 20/20 launched the National School Golf Program in fall 2003. Its mission: introduce elementary school children to the basics of golf skills, etiquette and play.

If the NSGP’s first year is any indication, the program may become the most meaningful grow-the-game initiative ever launched.

More than 50,000 youngsters at 130 elementary schools participated in the pilot held during the 2003-2004 school year. Early feedback resonates with rave reviews for the program – developed according to national physical education standards. It was created by Benna Cawthorn, a teacher with 19 years of experience in youth sports and curriculum development.

To accelerate the NSGP’s expansion, Golf 20/20 appropriately announced this month that it is transferring stewardship of the program to The First Tee.

Since its inception in 1997, The First Tee – with help from the PGA Tour, in particular – quickly has evolved into a well-branded charitable cause. Its high profile, growing resources, local chapters and affiliate courses make it a logical partner for the NSGP.

The opportunities to bridge NSGP graduates to First Tee facilities are virtually limitless. Such a pairing also provides for a gradual and sensible transition from using SNAG equipment to real clubs. (SNAG is manufacturer of introductory golf gear, designed to be developmentally appropriate for students and to accommodate confined playing areas.) Recently, The First Tee designated SNAG as one of its partners and became its distributor.

This alliance makes sense, too. According to Joe Louis Barrow Jr., the First Tee’s executive director, the arrangement will help in “expediting the distribution of (SNAG) equipment to schools.”

Now, a solid foundation has been set to grow the NSGP. It’s first goal is to offer curriculums in 300 schools next academic year. NSGP is only available for grades K through 5, but plans call for developing programs for middle schools and high schools.

“What’s great about the NSGP is that . . . once you provide the equipment, the curriculum and the training, it’s pretty much self-sustaining,” Beckwith said.

And as the NSGP becomes intertwined with The First Tee, students also will be taught The First Tee’s most important lessons: Sportsmanship. Confidence. Integrity. Perseverance. Respect. Responsibility. Judgment. Courtesy. Honesty.

Nine great values for youths, and a future ensured for the game of golf.

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