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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016

Cutting edge golf program comes to area

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Jeff Ketterman
SIKESTON -- Honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

Obviously all are admirable traits in any individual, but they're also the nine core values emphasized in a cutting edge program designed to foster character development in America's youth.

That program, the First Tee, is coming to Southeast Missouri.

Established in 1997 by the World Golf Foundation, the First Tee teaches life lessons to young people through the game of golf. Golf, by its very nature of friendly competition, individual effort and self-officiating, lends itself as a powerful conduit to teaching character virtues.

Gregg Choate of Cape Girardeau, the driving force behind bringing the program to the area, said, "I'm relatively new to golf and I was watching the Masters and saw a commercial advertising First Tee. Knowing the relationship the Jaycees have with the city of Cape and the municipal golf course, I called and got the information and I've been working hard to bring it to the area ever since."

First Tee uses golf as the vehicle to teach life skill lessons that will last them the rest of their lives."

Gregg Choate and son Jared attended the First Tee coaches' training clinic in Kansas City and are certified assistant coaches, qualified to teach golf and life skills lessons.

The Choates, along with volunteer coach Nat Choate, have been working with an already in-place after-school golf club at the Cape Central Middle School.

"As a pilot for us to get to know how the program works, we've been teaching there for the past two weeks," said Gregg Choate. "So far, the kids are really enthusiastic and receiving it well. They're doing just fantastic."

The Bootheel Golf Club of Sikeston, the Cape Girardeau Municipal Golf Course and Arena Park Golf of Cape Girardeau are the venues where First Tee will be taught beginning in late May.

Jeff Ketterman, owner and general manager of the Bootheel Golf Club, will serve as the resident PGA professional.

"First of all, we're excited to be a part of it," said Ketterman. "I think it's so very important and the community is fortunate to have it available. We want to provide an opportunity for kids that normally wouldn't get a chance to play golf.

"There's such a perception that golf is exclusive. If you're a minority or poor, you're not welcome. We want to get away from that stigma.

"And we're giving something back to a game that has been so good to us. If we could get just one kid that goes on to be a success from the things that they learned here, it's well worth it."

The First Tee is recognized as one of the premier youth character-education programs in the country and is overseen by a committee comprised of members representing Augusta National Golf Club, the Ladies Professional Golf Association, the PGA of America, the PGA Tour and the United Stated Golf Association.

Academics, also a prime focus of the First Tee program, provides a gateway to higher education through its Scholars program. More than 26 colleges and universities have partnered with First Tee, offering a range of merit-based scholarships.

Perhaps the most telling testimonials come from parents of First Tee participants. According to a recent study, 76 percent said they observed an increase in their child's confidence, 74 percent saw positive changes in their child's communication skills, 74 percent saw positive changes in their child's acceptance of responsibility, 66 percent observed positive changes in their child's social abilities and 52 percent reported their child made better grades in school.

Said Gregg Choate, "The idea behind the life skills lessons using golf is to introduce both of them seamlessly to the child; introduce a lesson of respect at the same time you're working with them on the putting green. They learn respect and proper ways to meet and greet each other as they would on the first tee box by clearly announcing their names with a firm handshake and a smile."

Each participant, grouped according to age, must complete a life skills workbook as they progress through each phase of the program, which includes the Par Club, the Birdie Club and the Eagle Club.

Various levels of membership are available. Par Club membership costs $40 per child for a six-week session, Birdie Club membership costs $100 per child for one year and an Eagle Club membership costs $200 for two children for one year.

An Ace Club membership, aimed primarily at individual or corporate sponsors, costs $1,000 for 10 children for one year.

Scholarships are also available on a case-by-case basis.

"No child will be turned away," said Ketterman. "We're asking the community to get involved. Anybody, including retirees, who wishes to help or who'd like to sponsor a child who may not be able to afford the program are welcome."

The program opens at Sikeston on Wednesday, May 30. Sessions, 1 1/2 to 2 hours in length, will be held on Wednesday and Thursday at Sikeston, Monday and Tuesday at Cape Girardeau.

Registration forms are available at the Bootheel Golf Club. Parents must register children in person.

Expecting expansion to include 3.5 million young people by 2010, the First Tee has built an impressive legacy.

"It's a proven successful program, over and above what anybody expected," said Gregg Choate.