Playing with purpose

There’s more to golf than being able to hit a ball, as 14 interns and 18 physical education instructors for Minot Public Schools were told at the First Tee National Schools Program training session, held Monday morning at Swain Hall on Minot State University’s campus.

A national trainer for First Tee and physical education instructor from Lincoln, Neb., Diane Lamb, was brought in to give many of these Minot-area educators an introduction to the program, which has 180 chapters in all 50 states and three countries.

“We’ve got a great group,” said Steve Kottsick, golf director for Minot Park District. The training was meant to help reboot the community’s youth golf program, which had been disrupted by the 2011 Souris River flood. Some of the instructors returned for a refresher course, but many of the day’s participants were fresh faces to the First Tee program.

“First Tee is a character building program that uses golf as its medium. We’re teaching kids character and core values,” explained Reed Argent, president of the Minot Junior Golf Association. “And if they learn a little golf on the way, that’s great.”

In addition to introducing the game, the program tries to instill nine core values, including honesty, perseverance, and sportsmanship, as well as nine healthy habits. Many of these values overlap with and compliment area public schools’ Character Counts pillars.

“Its mechanics are intertwined with the nine core values,” said Henry Sandles, director of Mountain Region Affairs for First Tee, based in Albuquerque, N.M.. In golf there are no referees. “People call penalties on themselves.”

The game is about getting along with peers, being responsible and courteous toward others, as well as the other social aspects of the game. Argent added that it is important that kids learn how to shake a person’s hand and look them in the eye.

“We want to be developing those character traits,” said Kathryn Lenertz, principal at Dakota Elementary. “That is a mission in Minot schools.”

“Exposure is good,” she said of the game. Though not a golfer herself, she said her own children will be enrolled in the program. “We can start them up as young as kindergarten.”

For many participants, First Tee will be their first exposure to the game of golf. The 24 lessons are designed so that they can be integrated into primary-level physical education classes. The program’s “Starting New At Golf” (SNAG) gear is color-coordinated and age-appropriate, with plastic clubs consisting of “launchers and rollers” approximations of drivers and putters, respectively and tennis-style safety balls with which to learn the four primary parts of golf: pitching, putting, chipping and full swing. Sets have a one-time cost of around $3,250, a fee which Minot Junior Golf has paid for area schools enrolled in the program.

“We’re fortunate to have First Tee of Minot here,” said Sandles, as the program depends on the support of such community groups across the country. He explained that since its start in 1997, the national program has gone through several phases of development. First Tee is currently in its fourth phase, with its goal by 2017 to reach 10,000 schools around the country through its various delivery programs.

“They’re all laughing and having a good time,” Kottsick said, pointing out the instructors undergoing Monday’s training. “That’s what this is about with the kids, having fun.

“We are looking for summer interns,” he added, with paid positions and college credit on offer. Information on the program can be obtained by calling Souris Valley Golf Course at 857-4189. Kottsick also said that the program is interested in finding potential mentors as well, seasoned players who might be interested in accompanying junior golfers on the course.

More information on First Tee, its National School Program, and other activities available through Jack Hoeven Wee Links can be found online at (