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I have been involved with youth programs for most of my life. Gene and I had four daughters and for years we were immersed in Girl Scouts, church youth groups, softball teams, gymnastics, a children’s choir, and the junior golf program at our club.
Now, with my kids grown and all the grandchildren living in Virginia, I am again immersed in kids through The First Tee. This is a great program, because it’s not just about golf; it’s about life skills and core values, it’s about learning to shake hands, to play fair and to keep trying when nothing is going well. It’s about accepting defeat graciously and about thanking others when you win.
In 2005, when The First Tee of Brunswick County was getting established, I was asked to serve on the first board of directors. I flew out to Fort Smith, Ark., to attend a regional First Tee meeting and to observe a highly successful First Tee in action. That chapter had several thousand members, a nine-hole course, a beautiful clubhouse, a paid staff and lots of volunteers, but what impressed me most was the Nine Core Values of The First Tee.
During our last meeting, a young man named Eric Jones spoke about his experience with The First Tee. Eric had been in a serious automobile accident, suffering several broken bones and a brain injury that left him with little use of his right arm and leg. He had to relearn basic skills like talking, eating, drinking and swallowing. After months of intense physical therapy, Eric was able to walk and finally, 10 months after the wreck, he was able to play golf once more.
“I learned about perseverance, one of the Nine Core Values, in my First Tee classes,” he said. “Perseverance tells to you keep going, even when it hurts, even when it’s hard. I thought about that in my hospital bed when I couldn’t move, then later, during all those weeks and months of therapy. Thank you, First Tee, for helping me to walk and to play golf again.”
When Eric finished speaking there was not a dry eye in the room. From that moment on, I was hooked on The First Tee.
Although Brunswick County is a young chapter, we have our own stories of perseverance, sportsmanship, honesty, courage, integrity, confidence, courtesy, responsibility and judgment (the Nine Core Values). Let me tell you one of them.
Fourteen-year-old Greg Hensley first touched a plastic golf club at the age of 3 at his grandfather’s old single-wide trailer in Supply.
Alan Hensley, Greg’s father, said, “When he was little, Greg used that big yellow club to break the driver’s window on my ’92 Ford Ranger. There would be no happy sequels to his story if not for The First Tee.” He laughed.
When Greg was 11, he joined The First Tee and learned to play golf under the tutelage of Jennifer Harvey Baldwin, the former executive director of The First Tee of Brunswick County.
“Jennifer got Greg interested in golf and we’ll always be grateful for that,” Alan said.
Greg moved up through the levels of The First Tee, going from Par to Birdie to Eagle. Coach Walt Stachura worked with Greg and soon his game improved enough for him to be captain of the Shallotte Middle School team, which won the county championship this past spring. At the end of the school year, Greg was named Scholar Athlete of the Year at his school.
This summer, Greg was selected to represent The First Tee of Brunswick County at the National Leadership Academy at Kansas State University.
“It was an honor to be picked to go,” he said. “We had to write an essay, do community service, play good golf and be interviewed. When we flew out, it was my first time in an airplane and I loved it, especially taking off and landing.”
At the academy, First Tee members attend a weeklong camp offering Life Skills and Leadership Development workshops, golf clinics and career development.
“I met other kids from all over the world,” he said. “We stayed in dorms, attended workshops in the morning and played golf every afternoon. On the last day, we went to the Worlds of Fun Amusement Park. I rode the biggest roller coaster there!”
The First Tee can be a life changing experience for kids, according to Alan.
“My son’s whole life changed when he found golf and The First Tee,” he explains, “Suddenly Greg had goals and his school work improved. He still plays soccer and other sports, but his attitude turned around.”
Today Greg plays in regional junior and amateur events. Recently he played in a junior golf tournament in Greeneville, Tenn. It was a significant trip because his elderly grandparents and his aunt, who live nearby, were able to come and watch.
Alan was thrilled his parents could finally see Greg play a sport.
“Unlike baseball or football, golf is portable,” he said. “Greg’s grandparents couldn’t travel 410 miles to see him play golf or baseball. Because Greg went there, they could watch him play. It was the first time my dad had ever been in a golf cart. I took a photo of him on the cart, and it’s priceless.
“Because of The First Tee, our whole family has changed. We couldn’t afford golf because it’s just too expensive, but through The First Tee, Greg can play. A whole year’s membership costs $25 and those who can’t afford it can get a scholarship.
“The First Tee changed me, too. I started volunteering by picking up balls at Cinghiale Creek, their home course. Last year I drove the First Tee van to the Nick Bradley clinics in North Myrtle Beach. Now I take photos, archive articles, chaperone the kids, and co-chair the public relations committee.
“There’s so much about The First Tee that outside observers might not notice. Kids don’t sit on the bench, because in The First Tee, everyone plays. Income doesn’t matter, race doesn’t matter; every child is welcome.
“First Tee members are exposed to core values and they learn important life lessons. Less time is spent in front of video games, computers and television sets. Instead of being left out of the all-star team, the kids learn a game they can play for life.
“Most importantly, kids and parents can share more time together. Based on our family’s experience, any Brunswick County youngster from any walk of life can enroll in The First Tee. Everyone is treated equally and everyone starts at the same Par Level programming. To paraphrase the slogan from The Home Depot where I work, ‘You can do it; we (The First Tee) can help.’ ”
Fall sign-ups are under way for The First Tee. For more information, go to thefirstteebrunswickcounty.org.
GOLF GAB GROANER
A senior golfer was invited to his old friend’s home for dinner. As the evening progressed, he was impressed by the way his buddy preceded every request to his wife with endearing terms like: Honey, Darling, Sweetie-pie and Sugar. The couple had been married almost 70 years and it seemed they were still very much in love.
When the wife went into the kitchen, the man leaned over to his host, “I think it’s wonderful that, after all these years, you still call your wife those loving pet names.”
The old man hung his head, “I have to tell you the truth,” he said. “Her name slipped my mind about 10 years ago and I’m scared to death to ask her what it is.”
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at email@example.com.