Bobby Jones, founder and designer of the Augusta National Golf Club, once famously said that “golf is the closest game to the game we call life.”
If Jones were still around today, he would be proud of The First Tee of Utah and its youth participants in Logan. Lessons about both games were taught and internalized by coaches and kids alike.
Partnering with the Logan River Golf Course, The First Tee opened its Logan chapter this summer. The five-week youth program came to close Thursday evening, as coaches, kids and parents celebrated and reflected on the progress they’ve made.
The First Tee of Utah’s goal is to “teach Utah kids character values and life skills through golf.” The organization focuses on imparting nine “core values.” Honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment are all taught and reinforced. Seven different kids, ranging from age 7 to 13, participated in the inaugural program at Logan River.
“I learned respect,” 13 year-old Makenzie Bishop said. “You should have respect for everyone, no matter who they are.”
“I learned patience and how to wait my turn,” Hunter Madsen, the youngest participant said. “I like putting.”
Thursday night consisted of pizza, personal reflection and putting. Gathered in the clubhouse, the kids and their parents shared pizza and soda. Paul Pugmire, the executive director of The First Tee of Utah, encouraged the youth to share the lessons they’ve learned.
Answers ranged from “not to hit it into the hazards” and “how to line up the ball with the hole,” to “it’s important that if you win or lose, you have to always respect others and show sportsmanship.”
“The improvement with these kids is very gratifying and very fun to watch,” Pugmire said. “It’s been a lot of fun to see them pick up these skills. In addition to the golf skills, they are also picking up our core values. Some of these values are very simple, for example, honesty. They understand it and they understand that applying it is a little bit harder.
“Some of the concepts like integrity and perseverance are a little more difficult for them. It’s been fun to watch them learn these characteristics and what they mean. It’s been fun to watch them struggle with the concepts and learn where to apply them, on and off of the course.”
The group capped the night by splitting into two teams and playing “tic-tac-toe golf” on the putting green. The traditional game had a putting spin put on it, as teams took turn placing their markers on an 18-foot by 18-foot grid with strategically placed puts.
The night ended when the kids teamed up to defeat their parents and coaches. With the game on the line and needing to hit a corner square, Hayden Ford placed a near-perfect putt to the delight of her teammates. The kids celebrated with high-fives and pats on the back, as Ford proudly raised her putter.
Tim Howells, The First Tee of Utah founder and former Utah Jazz general manager, was on hand Thursday night. He watched contently as the kids displayed the joy that they’ve found in the game.
“Logan is a tight-knit community, and we are going to get a lot of kids learning and internalizing these values that maybe they wouldn’t learn otherwise,” Howells said. “It is really meaningful and important that we are in Logan,” Pugmire said. “People from Logan have a very distinct identity in the community. They know it, they say it and they identify with it. That is one of the elements that we have found that makes for a successful program.”
Logan River’s staff has been instrumental in the First Tee program. Course professional Jeff Johns and assistant professional Justin Gereau helped coach the kids, along with pro shop employee Kelsi Kartchner.
Gereau is set to travel to Oklahoma City in the near future to participate in the First Tee’s coach training program. Gereau will learn how to help participants progress through the program’s classifications.
“The First Tee really stresses not only having the means for the kids, but for the coaches as well,” Gereau said. “They take that very seriously, for the coaches to have integrity and to go through the training to learn what to pass along to all of the children.”
Pugmire volunteered a lot of his time in traveling to Logan twice a week to coach the kids and instruct the coaches.
The First Tee has more than 170 chapters across the nation. Logan marks the sixth chapter in Utah, with 20,000 kids involved statewide. Participants in the Logan program included Bishop, Madsen, Ford, Abram Delisle, Mason Bishop and Matthew and Josh Bryan.
Registration for The First Tee can be found online at www.thefirstteeutah.org.