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Youth golf program at Eagles Pride, Whispering Firs provides young JBLM golfers lessons about game, life

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:57PM July 3rd, 2014

Lauren Anderson, 10, had never swung a golf club before attending her first class during an eight-week course at Whispering First Golf Course on JBLM McChord Field.

On her first swing at the driving range, her driver hit the golf ball a few feet out of the booth and wide left. After a few tips from Kyle Buchberger, an instructor from First Tee of South Puget Sound, her work with the driver improved steadily — the ball was flying straighter and farther.

“I like the feeling that I’m getting better,” Lauren said. “I want to keep doing this so I can play golf with my dad.”

Along with 11 other JBLM youths, Lauren learned about perseverance, which is one of the nine core values the First Tee program teaches youths through the game of golf.

The other eight core values are: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, courtesy and judgment.

Each class focuses on at least one of these values and is demonstrated through a golf exercise.

“For confidence, I have them hit over a bunker, which is extremely difficult,” Buchberger said. “You have to have a confidence (to make it on the green).”

Students are also given a player’s book that includes the lessons they will learn over the eight-week course. They can keep with them whether they remain at JBLM or their family moves across the country to another duty station.

“They’ll be able to take the same concepts wherever they go,” Buchberger said.

Some of the parents registered their children for the eight-week course after completing a six-week introductory First Tee course.

Julio Bernard said his daughter Jemily, 10, enjoyed the spring course so much that he signed her up for the summer course.

“When a kid is motivated by a sport, you have to support her,” Bernard said. “She learns how to be patient and how to focus her energy.”

Shane Lowry said his two sons — Ty, 9, and Brayden, 8 — have shown interest in golf for a long time and have already shown they can hit long, straight drives from the tee.

Not only is golf a fun outdoor activity for the family, Lowry said, it’s already become a reason for regular outings for the Lowry household.

“It’s something my father-in-law and I do, so it’s nice to take the kids and make it a ‘guys’ day,’” Lowry said.

The First Tee program started in 2010 and has developed partnerships with local golf courses, youth programs and JBLM’s Child, Youth and School Services.

There is also a partnership between First Tee and the JBLM Special Olympics program, where more than 10 athletes participate in a modified course that still includes teaching the nine core values.

In her second year working with First Tee, JBLM Special Olympics coach Genia Stewart said her main focus is preparing the athletes for the Special Olympics Washington regional competition July 27, at Meadow Park Golf Course in Lakewood.

Some of the athletes will enter the individual-skills competition and others will play either a nine- or 18-hole stroke play, which makes the weeks of practice worthwhile, Stewart said.

“For a lot of kids, practice gets boring,” Stewart said. “Getting them to be able to go to a tournament brings it all together for them. Now they will go out and test their skill.”

While the program introduces life skills through the sport, many parents are happy to see their children taking an interest in something not involved with technology.

Even some of the students are going home teaching their parents what they learned. Bernard said he has gained tips on how to stand properly and hit the ball effectively from his daughter.

“That means she knows what she’s doing,” Bernard said.