The delightfully comprehensive impact of free golf outreach to non-golfing families struck Bucky Dudley when a 10-year-old boy from a Charleston peninsula neighborhood was quick with a question at Patriots Point Links.
When, the happy kid wanted to know while gazing from the 17th green at a downtown Charleston backdrop across the Cooper River, do we get to ride over that big bridge again?
“He loved the golf cart, loved putting and picking out golf clubs,” said Dudley, a 42-year-old golf pro and executive director of the non-profit First Tee — Greater Charleston. “But he had never been to Mount Pleasant. He had never been on the Ravenel Bridge. This wasn’t just about golf, it was a whole new world.”
That’s just one reason why Swing It Forward CHS, a new First Tee — Greater Charleston initiative offering free golf to youth 18 and under at five Lowcountry courses, is the best sports idea of 2021.
It started Jan. 1, runs all year and includes …
• Free rounds at Charleston Municipal, Berkeley Country Club, Patriots Point Links, Wescott Golf Club and Wrenwood Golf Course (see firstteegreatercharleston.org for more information)
• Loaner clubs available on a first-come, first-serve basis
• No registration
• No enrollment
• No strings attached
• Just call a course and reserve a time (adults are welcome to accompany their kids but must pay greens fees)
This is brilliant, important, a major help to America far beyond the minor importance of any given activity. Those in charge of other team and individual sports ought to seek similarly free access for families unable to buy expensive equipment or travel to out-of-town tournaments.
The Charleston chapter of First Tee has been doing great things since its 2008 launch: 225 volunteer coaches and mentors have worked with 17,000 kids in golf, school or partner programs involving 32 elementary schools, city rec centers and YMCAs. Dudley says at least 37 percent of the participants are girls — “and the goal is 50-50” — with 42 percent of the kids non-white.
The addition of Swing It Forward CHS is another great golf shot, like Bubba Watson driving the green from behind a fat magnolia tree.
Golf as a life parallel
First Tee emphasizes character, education, sportsmanship, honesty and integrity throughout its reach.
Preparation for real life usually goes better with practice in effort, competition and camaraderie.
The game parallels life,” said Scott Peevy, a commercial real estate broker who is one of 20 First Tee — Greater Charleston board members. “It’s not about becoming a PGA Tour player.”
But it does feature the joy of golf.
“Swing It Forward targets the kid who already plays golf but cost is an issue. Playing three or four times a week adds up,” said Peevy, 39. “It also targets families who just want to send their kids out there for the first time.”
Help spread the word
First Tee and other golf outreach organizations, regionally and nationally, are still learning about good ways to get the message out to audiences often unfamiliar with niche golf media publications and websites. Creative ideas have included gaining access to church bulletins.
First Tee — Charleston counts music star Darius Rucker, project manager Matthew Sloan and U.S. Congressman James Clyburn (D-S.C.) as honorary advisors but is always open to outside ideas and other support donations.
Sure, the golf people involved in youth golf strategy want to grow the game.
It’s also a uniting cause full of life lessons.
“The really cool thing about Swing it Forward is it breaks down the barriers of cost,” Dudley said. “Golf can be seen as kind of an elitist sport with a high cost. What First Tee does is break down golf’s entry barrier.”
The weather is about to get better for golfers.
And the Swing It Forward CHS campaign produced more than 100 rounds of golf in the first three weeks of January.
You can bet that’s a lot of bridges crossed, figuratively and literally.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff