Synethia Morrall watched Friday as her daughter, Amari Gadson, hit purple tennis balls between two lines of colorful markers at First Tee of Augusta.
Morrall, a third-grade teacher at Meadowbrook Elementary School, said it never would have occurred to her to encourage her daughter to play golf until she learned about First Tee’s National School Program Skills Challenge.
The program, sponsored by Georgia Power, equipped coaches at elementary schools in Richmond and Columbia counties to teach a modified version of First Tee’s curriculum.
Six students from 23 schools – two pupils each from the third, fourth and fifth grades – went to the course Friday to compete in the golf and life skills challenge.
“It’s our hope that they will at some point transition and become full-blown members of the First Tee and continue learning about life skills and golf skills. Even if they don’t, we hope that something that they learn from the core values will stick with them,” said Executive Director Jill Brown.
Pupils won individual and school prizes, including Golfzilla, a 20-foot inflatable dinosaur with holes in it for them to practice hitting balls into.
Many of the pupils and coaches had never been exposed to the game, Brown said.
Instead of regular-sized clubs and golf balls, students used oversized clubs and tennis balls to hit targets and practice long drives.
Pupils also wrote essays about their favorite core value, life skill or healthy habit. Prizes were awarded for the best essay.
Brown said 31,000 children learned of the program through the challenge.
Suzanne Sharkey, the community information coordinator for Georgia Power, said education is a very important initiative for the company.
“This is the third, fourth and fifth grades. It’s real important to go ahead and instill values and plant seeds so as they continue through junior high school (and) high school, they’re focused on the core values they teach (at First Tee),” she said. “It’s so important to reach kids when they’re young,” she said.
Morrall said she was impressed with the program and liked that it exposes children to a sport that is less common.
She often went outside to watch as Amari, a third-grader at Meadowbrook, and her classmates practiced. She said Amari had been very excited about going to the golf course for Friday’s competition.
“She’s been taking my cups out of the cupboard and practicing hitting balls into them,” she said.