By Lynn Saternow
Herald Sports Editor
The First Tee of Sharon program has impressed many people since its inception in 1999. But when you bring praise from national and regional program leaders, you know you’re doing something right.
“The First Tee of Sharon is the oldest chapter in the state of Pennsylvania,” said Jennifer Weiler, Northeast Regional manager of The First Tee out of Philadelphia. “It has been the model for others across the state.”
Weiler visited the Sharon facility Thursday along with Len Stachitas, vice president of resource development from St. Augustine, Fla., and Jim David, Midwest Regional manager out of Chicago. The trio was especially excited about how The First Tee of Sharon has teamed with a free golf course at Buhl Farm.
“I drove around the golf course and I saw families playing on every hole,” said Stachitas. “That’s what The First Tee is all about. We provide an opportunity for kids to learn the game the proper way.”
Stachitas, who works out of the World Golf Foundation at the Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, pointed out that The First Tee program arose when all the golfing organizations throughout the world met to set up the Hall of Fame.
The group realized that while the Hall of Fame dealt with the game’s past, they needed something to assure the game’s future. Thus The First Tee was born in 1997.
“At that time surveys showed that only about 2 percent of children ages 8 to 17 had touched a golf club,” Stachitas said. “The prime reason was that they had nowhere to learn. Just like this facility here (in Sharon), it provides a welcome place for kids.”
He pointed out that at one facility in Richmond, Va., the kids are actually the members of the course. No adults are allowed on the course unless they are guests of a child.
But as David stressed, there is a lot more to The First Tee than just teaching golf. It’s also about teaching etiquette, sportsmanship and learning to deal with other people.
“The life skills that the program teaches is what separates us from other golf programs. Golf is a game for all ages and life skills are for all ages also,” David said. “We have a scholarship program as well that provides some kids with something of value for their future life.”
Three local youngsters — Dan Andrusky and Jordan and Jacque Moss — were on hand to meet the visitors. The three had all attended The First Tee Academy, a national camp for training young people for golf and life.
The national program has grown rapidly. Currently there are 11 programs in Pennsylvania and 258 facilities all together. There are also facilities in five countries.
“While they are similar in some ways, some chapters have their own visions of the future and what they can do for kids.,” said David.
Carole Barker, coordinator of The First Tee of Sharon, pointed out that the local program is “re-organizing every year. We are always looking at ways we can do things better or more efficiently.”
Barker credited local instructor Scott Karas for his key role in teaching and helping the boys and girls to enjoy their lessons. “Scott does a great job,” she praised.
“We consider this a national youth development program,” said Barker. “The First Tee of Sharon is very honored to have guests from the national to come visit us.”
The First Tee officials spoke to Sharon Rotary Club after touring the local facility.
By Lynn Saternow