Golf

The First Tee youth golf program hopes to grow the sport

2016: Junior golf program coming to Wichita

The First Tee junior golf program is forming a chapter in Wichita to bring the game to more children. Golf pros Woody Austin and Katherine Kirk were on hand for the announcement at Terradyne Country Club. (Video by Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle/
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The First Tee junior golf program is forming a chapter in Wichita to bring the game to more children. Golf pros Woody Austin and Katherine Kirk were on hand for the announcement at Terradyne Country Club. (Video by Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle/

While the boys and girls golf coach at Kapaun Mount Carmel, Corey Novascone saw a lack of participation at some high schools.

Two schools didn’t have girls teams last fall, and two schools form one boys team this spring.

The First Tee junior golf program is forming a chapter in Wichita to bring the game to more children. Golf pros Woody Austin and Katherine Kirk were on hand for the announcement at Terradyne Country Club. (Video by Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle/

But Novascone hopes there will be growth in the future. He’s now the program director for the Wichita-area chapter of The First Tee, a program designed to introduce golf to kids from all socio-economic backgrounds.

Ten percent of the youths involved are African American, and 30 percent of them have no previous exposure to golf. Fifty-two percent involved are Caucasian, with 5 percent considered advanced.

“I got to see firsthand that there’s a need to grow the game in Wichita, and this is an enormous step,” Novascone said during an introductory news conference at Terradyne Country Club on Thursday.

The First Tee will offer nine weeks of golf lessons starting June 7 at Consolver Golf Course and at Terradyne for kids as young as 5. The cost is $60 and scholarships are available.

One of the best guys is (North golf coach) Scott Baxter, who rattles the cages, goes into the hallways and gets those kids to play. Hopefully with The First Tee exposing kids to the game of golf, he won’t have to do that as hard.

Program director Corey Novascone

“We’re not going to turn anyone away,” said Nancy Compton, the executive director of the Wichita-area chapter of The First Tee. “We want a bunch of kids who will want to learn the whole program.”

The First Tee started in 1997 as a collaboration between the PGA, LPGA and U.S. Golf Association. There are now 172 chapters nationally at 1,000 locations.

Wichita was the largest U.S. metro area not to host the program, though the plan to bring it here started in 2014.

“If all of you could imagine starting a million-dollar business from scratch, you kind of get an idea of starting a non-profit entity such as The First Tee,” said local chairman Tom West. “… Our plans for the first year are very aggressive.”

In 2017, The First Tee plans to expand to two more Wichita courses and in Derby and Newton. Sites in Winfield and El Dorado are planned for 2018.

The First Tee’s reach will also extend to 27 of the 58 Wichita school district elementaries.

All equipment and training, online or in person, will be provided by The First Tee.

“We’re super lucky to have them on board where it’s going to be a unit of P.E. in their class,” Novascone said of the Wichita school district. “They’ll use modified golf equipment — it’s really colorful and it’s really easy to use.

“Golf is typically a tough game, but with the modified golf equipment, it is easier.”

$60Cost of the 9 week summer program. Scholarships are available.

27Number of elementary schools in Wichita that will use The First Tee curriculum in PE

$0Cost of The First Tee to the Wichita public schools

The First Tee will also be used by the Boys & Girls Club and there are plans to connect with the YMCA in the future, as well.

“Anything that gathers youth, why not give the exposure of golf?” Compton said.

Compton said The First Tee will complement the area’s existing youth programs, specifically the Wichita Junior Golf Foundation and the McAdams Golf Club.

Woody Austin and Katherine Kirk, pro golfers who live in the Wichita area, helped introduce The First Tee at Terradyne.

“It was considered way-back-when a rich person’s game, a country club game,” said Austin, who has lived in the Wichita area for nearly 20 years. “Therein lies the difficulty of getting in touch with some of the youth.”

Kirk agreed.

“I think what makes it successful is The First Tee does reach them at an earlier age, and it keeps it fun,” said Kirk, who moved to Wichita in 2003 after playing in the 2001 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

One of the primary aspects of The First Tee is a focus on nine core values, which will be incorporated in the curriculum.

Those core values include honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

“It’s not about making more golf champions,” Kirk said. “I mean, that’s kind of a bonus if it happens, but the whole point of it is to encourage kids to learn the game and the values that they learn through it.… Those are the things that stick with them through life.”

Joanna Chadwick: 316-268-6270, @joannachadwick

The First Tee

What: Youth golf development program beginning June 7

Courses: Consolver Golf Course, Terradyne Country Club

Cost: $60 for nine weekly lessons, scholarships available

Information: Call 316-371-8711

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