It was cold and wet outside, but the weather didn’t thwart West Elementary sixth-grade golfers.
On Monday, it was the sixth-graders’ turn at West to spend their physical education classes learning how to drive, chip and putt inside the gym at the Tooele school as part of The First Tee of Utah program.
“We had planned to go outside today where we have a lot more room to do the drills, but we had to move inside,” said Cody Lopez, assistant golf pro at Oquirrh Hills Golf Course.
Lopez and West Elementary physical education specialist Wendy Beacham spent Monday tutoring the students about golf, core values and healthy habits.
“I like it that we are able to teach core values and healthy habits as part of this program,” Beacham said.
The First Tee program also has been used at East and Northlake elementary schools and is designed for students kindergarten through sixth.
The core value on Monday was “confidence” and the healthy habit was “mind.” Beacham talked briefly with the students about those two terms before and after the students worked on their golf skills.
The mission of The First Tee is 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.
Other core values taught include respect, courtesy, responsibility, honesty, sportsmanship, judgment, perseverance and integrity. Other healthy habits are play, safety, energy, family, school, friends, vision and community.
Beacham had the students warm up with exercises, which included crunches, wall-sitting, jumping jacks, running and skipping around the gym.
There were three stations set up in the gym with one for driving, one for chipping and one for putting. Tennis balls are used instead of golf balls, and players use plastic over-sized golf clubs.
For driving, the students aimed their shots at Velcro targets that looked like typical bow-and-arrow targets. They chipped toward small flags, and for putting they aimed to knock down three bowling pins.
For the past two years Oquirrh Hills golf pro Chris Scott has been working with The First Tee of Utah Executive Director Tim Howells to establish the non-profit program in the Tooele area. Also, instrumental in developing the program is Ed Dalton of the Tooele County School District Foundation.
Dalton said the program reminded him of the Western Boys Baseball Association program he participated in when he was young.
“One of my coaches was Clarke N. Johnsen, a former school superintendent, and I treasured the opportunity to associate with him and the coaches as a young player. I also fondly remember the coaches in my Babe Ruth league. I’m filled with gratitude for those coaches who helped me along the way; it helped to build character. First Tee of Utah is similar to those types of programs,” Dalton said.
Howells was general manager for the Utah Jazz from 1989 to 1999. “During the good years,” Howells said.
“Two years ago I didn’t know Chris or Ed, but it has been a tremendous opportunity to work with them. I’m impressed with what is happening in Tooele with this program, and think it can be a model for what we do down the road,” Howells said.
Scott, Dalton and Howells spoke to business leaders at the March 27 Tooele County Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
“When I was with the Jazz we had great success establishing the Junior Jazz program throughout the state, and I gained a passion for working with young people. First Tee programs are being used at elementary schools, at Boys Clubs and Girls Clubs and at golf courses,” the executive director said.
“It’s not totally altruistic. Once kids get exposed to golf we would like them to transition to the golf course and becoming golfers,” Howells said.
Lopez said he has noticed an increase in parents bringing their children to the golf course to learn more about junior programs after they were exposed to golf through the schools and The First Tee program.
Howells said First Tee is also looking for volunteers and donations.
The goals of the program are to see participants graduate from high school on time with the life skills needed to succeed in college and life, with the ability to make healthy choices and with the desire to positively impact their communities.
The First Tee program is a beneficiary of The Mayor’s Annual Spring Benefit Golf Tournament at Oquirrh Hills Golf Course on May 17. For more information about that tourney contact Oquirrh Hills Golf Course.