A Drive to Broaden Golf’s Appeal Here

Teaching kids golf and life lessons
The gym at the Springs School was full of sixth graders learning the game of golf Tuesday morning under the watchful eyes of Mark McKee, above, and John Foster thanks to Kevin Smith, the head pro at Montauk Downs, and the Greater East Hampton Education Foundation. Jack Graves

   When Diane Lamb, a master teacher from Lincoln, Neb., asked following a golf clinic she gave for a dozen South Fork physical education teachers at East Hampton High School last week which school wanted to be the first in Suffolk to avail its students of the national First Tee program, designed to teach kids golf and life lessons, John Foster’s hand shot up.
    Foster, who works with the Springs School’s athletic director, Mark McKee, and who has caddied at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton since he was 14, seemed the obvious choice in any event.
    “I’m a big-time golfer,” he said before about 60 sixth graders entered Springs’ gym Tuesday morning for an introduction to putting. “My great-grandfather caddied at Shinnecock [where four U.S. Opens have been played over the past century] in the 1890s and 1900s, and my grandfather, Joseph Graygor, managed the Southampton Golf Club for 42 years.”
    The First Tee’s mission, according to one of its brochures, is “to impact the lives of young people [many of whom wouldn’t otherwise ever take up the sport] by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values, and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.” Based in St. Augustine, Fla., the First Tee, with the backing of the United States Golf Association, among others, now has “introduced golf and its values to more than 5 million participants, including more than 4,000 elementary school students, and has established more than 1,100 affiliate relationships with golf courses that offer access and reduced rates to participants.”
    Kevin Smith, the head professional at Montauk Downs, and the Greater East Hampton Education Foundation have, with generous donations — Smith and his foundation, Kevin Smith and Associates, have put up $10,000 for two sets of introductory equipment — brought the program here.
    The Greater East Hampton Education Foundation, whose representative at the clinic for teachers was Sue Nicoletti, is to hold a fund-raiser at East Hampton Point restaurant tomorrow from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. There will be a buffet dinner, dancing, and a silent auction and raffles, Nicoletti said.
    When it was observed that golf was a most difficult game, Foster said during Tuesday’s session, “That’s true, but we’re taking it one step at a time. Putting this week, chipping, pitching, and driving outside next week. We’re breaking it down, keeping it simple. The kids are very enthusiastic. More knew about the game than I had thought. They’re engaged, they’re focused, and, if they take to it, it’s something they can do for their entire lives, not only by themselves, but with their friends and families.”
    The First Tee, whose chief executive is Joe Louis Barrow Jr., son of the late heavyweight boxing champion, links its golf instruction with discussions of the nine “core values” deemed to be associated with the game, namely honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment. The nationwide program also emphasizes nine “healthy habits” that Annika Sorenstam’s foundation says are linked to golf, under the headings of “energy, play, safety, vision, mind, family, friends, school, and community.”
    So, having learned the game, where would the kids play, Foster was asked. “Montauk Downs, Poxabogue, the Sag Harbor course. . . . Kevin Smith’s been great in encouraging kids to play at Montauk Downs. He’s such a good guy. No question that we owe it to him and to the Greater East Hampton Education Foundation that we have this program here.”