Originally created 04/08/00

First Tee's progress is on par



Most of the landscape work is complete, and by mid-April the grass seed will be planted, the sod will be laid down and the First Tee project will be that much closer to reality.

"We're right on schedule," said Paul Simon, chairman of Fore! Augusta Foundation, the nonprofit group building the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame and organizing Augusta's First Tee Golf Course.

"We hope to have the course open by September or October," Mr. Simon said.

Augusta's First Tee Golf Course and Training Facility is geared toward children, specifically in the 8-18 age group. Adults will be allowed to play the course for a fee when children are in school.

The goal of the national First Tee organization, founded in 1997, is to build about 200 of these golf courses throughout the country.

On the courses, organizers say, children who might otherwise not have the chance or the resources to learn the game of golf will have the opportunity to do so.

"We think Augusta ought to have the best course in the country," Mr. Simon said.

Augusta's First Tee project began less then two years ago. Construction was started in December.

Meanwhile, another program, called Augusta Kids Golf Foundation, is taking shape. Andy Inman, a golf pro at Augusta Golf Centers Inc. in Grovetown, said the U.S. Golf Association recently gave Augusta Kids a $300,000 grant for youth development.

Mr. Inman said programs such as Augusta Kids -- which was created a few months ago and already expects to teach about 400 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds how to play golf this summer -- and the First Tee program go hand in hand.

"We already have a course (a three-hole practice facility)," Mr. Inman said. "Programs like these, well, golly, you get kids involved at a young age and they're going to be pros by the time they reach high school.

"The best part (about the First Tee program) is the recognition it already has. When you can start off with the No. 1 player in the game ... look at what Michael Jordan did for basketball. When you mention First Tee, Tiger (Woods) is the first name you think of."

Mr. Inman, who played on the professional circuit for two years, said he thinks that once it is completed, First Tee Augusta will be a great place for children to learn the game.

The course is being built on 40 acres on Damascus Road, near Augusta's new aquatics center. The land was leased to Fore! Augusta by the city at a rate of $1 a year for 20 years.

When finished, Augusta's First Tee Golf Course will boast a nine-hole course, a driving range, a clubhouse and a training center.

The course was designed by Palmer Golf Design of Florida at no charge. Ranger Construction is doing its work at cost.

Mr. Simon said he hopes other community businesses will continue the example by donating supplies such as lumber, brick, electrical wiring and other items. The materials will be used to build the clubhouse/training facility for the course.

"To me, the best part of this project is fulfilling what we set out to do," Mr. Simon said. "We want to create a real opportunity for kids to come and learn not only the game of golf, but other good aspects of sports, such as building self-confidence and character."

The First Tee project still needs monetary and material donations. People interested in making a donation should contact Mr. Simon at 823-3302.

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.