2011-06-16 / Golf

“First Tee” teaches rules, etiquette and lessons to strengthen character


Last week, as I was concluding the rules and etiquette article, I was inspired to include a local program that not only teaches golf skills, rules and etiquette, but touches on life skills as well.

Many of the values that make golf such a unique sport make each one of us a better person in general. And with that I would like to share with you what the First Tee of the Palm Beaches is all about.

Almost 20 years ago a small foundation was started to teach golf to a group of nine students with learning disabilities at one local school. Then known as the Children’s Golf Foundation, the program soon expanded and one school became many.

In 1996 that wonderful green mountain you see from the Florida Turnpike — aka the dump — got a new lease on life with the help of Palm Beach County and a grant from the USGA. In 2002, the dream of one day having an actual golf facility for kids became a reality. With hitting areas and actual holes, the dump became a haven for children and adults with challenges. Challenges that include autism, down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, sight-impaired veterans, the physically disabled and the learning disabled. That first year, the program grew to 350 students.

Children in the Palm Beach County First Tee program. 
COURTESY PHOTO Children in the Palm Beach County First Tee program. COURTESY PHOTO Fast forward to 2009. The board of directors brought the First Tee program to Palm Beach County and with the support of the Hondaa Classic and many local supporters, our little facility sees nearly 600 students a week.

What makes the First Tee program a success is perfectly described in its mission statement: To impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.

I have experienced first hand the impact this program has had, not only on our young golfers but on those with disabilities of all kinds who will probably never play an “actual” golf course. Whether it is an hour or a day, these golfers know what it is like to be outside just enjoying what nature and golf have to offer. It’s not about how good they can get at golf but about how good they can feel about themselves. It’s about being in an environment where everyone is equal.

This is why I love golf, the core values we learn that strengthen our character throughout our lifetime. The nine core values of the First Tee program are honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment. All the tools one should have to make this world a better place. (OK, I will now get off my soapbox.) If you would like more information about the First Tee program, visit thefirstteepalmbeaches.org.

Junior golf programs are not difficult to find. Many country clubs offer them and interestingly enough, if a junior wants to play on the actual golf course, they have to pass a rules and etiquette class. It’s a shame that some of our adult golfers have forgotten that.

And speaking of rules, where did we leave off last week?

Out Of Bounds and Lost Balls

Let’s discuss how to take relief from lost balls or out of bounds which are marked by white stakes or lines, fence posts and areas where play is forbidden — like a parking lot or the veranda of the clubhouse.

Relief is quite simple: you must replay the shot from the same spot the original ball was hit. The penalty is one shot. (This is also considered stroke and distance since you have not actually advanced the ball). The math goes like this, you hit your shot, that is one; it goes out of bounds and you have to bring it back to the original spot you hit it, that makes two; now you hit the ball again, that makes three.

If there is some doubt as to whether the ball is lost or out of bounds, you may play a provisional ball before your group advances to the next shot, but be sure to inform your playing partners. And, if you took note of the etiquette discussed last week, this will help with speed of play. How many times have you been in a foursome where someone hit a ball out of bounds but didn’t hit a provisional? Now they have to go all the way back to the spot they originally hit the shot and play again. FRUSTRATION for your group and the group behind you.

In the case of a lost ball, once you arrive at the spot where your ball went missing, you have 5 minutes to search for it. If you find the ball, you must abandon the provisional ball and play your original shot. No penalty is incurred.

Say you find the ball and it is unplayable, now what do you do? I think this is one of the most misunderstood rules in golf and I am going to save that for another week.

So, my tip for this week is not only should you carry a rulebook in your bag, you should learn what is in it. 

— Maria Marino is a professional golfer who teaches nationally for the LPGA and locally at the First Tee of the Palm Beaches at Dyer Park. Additionally, she owns Marino Realty Group, which focuses primarily on properties in the north end of Palm Beach County. Email her at mmarino@floridaweekly.com or call 906- 8222.

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