Local teenagers continue to kick playing Pebble Beach off their bucket lists.
Four kids from Augusta and Aiken were among 81 dedicated members of their local chapters of The First Tee to be selected to compete in the Champions Tour’s PURE Insurance Championship in Pebble Beach, Calif., in September. The selection announcement was made Wednesday morning on The Golf Channel.
Carter Harwell and Kambron Taylor made the field from The First Tee of Augusta while Drew Greene and Charlton Hill were selected from The First Tee of Aiken. They were the only golfers from 14 chapters that serve Georgia and South Carolina to be chosen.
“It’s one of the culminating experiences for students who’ve been in the program for a long time,” said First Tee of Augusta Executive Director Jill Brown. “There are 170 chapters and all have students who would love to participate in Pebble Beach. There’s stiff competition out there.”
The First Tee’s partnership with the Pebble Beach event has been going on for 14 years, and the Augusta chapter has been a regular feeder since Shepherd Archie was the first from the area to go in 2005 and 2007. Harwell and Taylor will be the 14th and 15th kids from the Augusta chapter to participate in the last 12 years.
Aiken, which started conducting programs at Houndslake Country Club in 2010, sent Brice Smoker as its first representative last year and was thrilled to follow it up with Greene and Hill as selections this year.
“To have, two years in a row, our kids go to the most elite participant opportunity available in the network is a huge honor for us and a testament to our coaches and volunteers,” said First Tee of Aiken Executive Director Lexie Milford.
The First Tee is loaded with opportunities to teach young boys and girls more than just how to play golf but life and leadership skills as well. Being selected to participate along with Champions Tour players in a televised event at Pebble Beach and Poppy Hills requires not only a 6.0. handicap for boys and 8.0 for girls but an application process that includes essay submissions and multiple interviews.
It is a huge incentive for boys and girls to keep participating in The First Tee beyond the introductory classes.
“Charlton and Drew, they’ve been dedicated, which is hard to do sometimes when you’re a teenage boy to stick with something like The First Tee,” Milford said. “I remember Drew when I was an intern six years ago and he was a little guy in the program and now he’s grown up to be one of the best golfers and a great volunteer. He really embodies everything we teach from the life skills to the core values.
“Same with Charlton, who’s really taken his game to the next level after starting out and not being really sure if golf was going to be his thing. But he ended up falling in love with it. He’s a coach and mentor to the younger kids and volunteers a lot at the chapter. Both are awesome representations of what we try to teach.”
Harwell – whose younger sister, Madison, competed last year at Pebble Beach – and Taylor reflect the same level of commitment in Augusta.
“Kambron and Carter have been with us since young kids,” said Brown. “They’re good players and have participated in many other opportunities with us.”
The sustained success both local chapters have in getting kids selected illustrates how well they’re training these young players to handle themselves in life situations. “Boot camps” teach them how to handle interviews and engage socially on the golf course with peers and adults.
“There are life skills and leadership academies and entrepreneurial seminars all paid for by The First Tee office,” Milford said. “These kids get opportunities they would never have the chance to do or meet people without this network. These are reasons to stick with the game for these types of opportunities.”
Brown uses incentives like Pebble Beach to sell parents on the benefits of committing to The First Tee and its nine core values of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
“We always want people to understand that there are some really great national and regional opportunities for the children,” Brown said. “They have to work their way to a certain level in the program and be a certain age. That’s why it’s critical not just to get involved in golf but the life skills as well. They can travel, play golf, meet some really cool people and participate in some wonderful experiences at no cost to the parents. We help prepare them for opportunities like this so that when they get to play with board members or guests, that’s the stepping stone to things like (Pebble).”
It doesn’t hurt that the region has such a strong collection of role models in the professional ranks. Augusta has long been synonymous with golf through the Masters Tournament, consecutive NCAA championships in 2010-11 by Augusta State and PGA Tour-winning pros like Larry Mize, Charles Howell, Vaughn Taylor and Patrick Reed. But Aiken has grown a higher profile on the golf map with local stars like Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown as well as other emerging players from a USC Aiken program that boasts three consecutive Division II national titles from 2004-06.
“Kevin’s and Scott’s recent successes have really solidified Aiken as a golf town,” said Milford. “Horses and golf are our two big (sports) industries and they’ve brought the golf side up with their success and willingness to participate in the community. They’ve been awesome in supporting our programs.”
Now another foursome of kids will provide more incentive as they get to fulfill their own dreams on the road to wherever The First Tee takes them.