Golf program to teach values, health in 23 Muscogee County schools

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 14, 2014 

The First Tee, a nationally renowned program that teaches students core values and healthy habits through golf, will be implemented in 23 Muscogee County public schools, thanks to funding from Georgia Power.

The amount of money the company donated wasn't available, but Georgia Power external affairs manager Robert Watkins said the physical education teachers at the district's remaining 10 elementary schools will receive The First Tee training and equipment next year.

Georgia Power is a subsidiary of the Southern Company, which has pledged to pay for the training and equipment to start The First Tee at 1,000 schools in the Southeast during the next five years.

The First Tee, based in St. Augustine, Fla., is used in more than 6,600 schools in the U.S., including nearly 250 that have signed on in Georgia, said program spokeswoman Jane Fader.

Chris Wickstrom, a student-teacher from Columbus State University, was among the physical education teachers going through The First Tee training Friday at Hardaway High School. He said The First Tee will help his students at Lonnie Jackson Academy and St. Marys Road Academy.

"Golf can teach them a lot about life, how to overcome obstacles, how to respect the game, respect people," he said. "If they carry the lessons from the sport, overall they can improve."

The First Tee uses modified equipment. The clubs are made out of composite plastics. The balls are mini tennis balls. Players can drive, chip and putt. They hit the balls off mats placed on the gym floor and aim at targets that capture the ball with Velcro.

Godwin Creek Golf Course was The First Tee site in Columbus from 2000-2011, but, Fader said, "it was simply a case of the nonprofit chapter board of directors not being able to generate enough community support and finances to continue the programs."

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