Originally created 03/31/04

Some oppose allowing First Tee onto course



AIKEN - Representatives of Houndslake Country Club are courting an Augusta program that introduces golf to underprivileged children, but some members are worried the young, novice duffers might damage their club's high-dollar fairways and greens.

Though talks between the club and The First Tee program have just begun, the proposed move already has sparked speculation and some opposition. A crowd estimated at more than 100 people attended a February meeting to discuss the issue.

"We don't think The First Tee program has a place at a private golf course," said Pete Seaha, who lives along Houndslake's 9-hole Laurel course.

Weldon Wyatt, one of nine people who shares ownership of Houndslake's 18- and 9-hole golf courses, said Tuesday that if the program is started, it would have no ill effect on the Laurel course.

The course is getting little use and is well-suited for The First Tee program, he said.

"It's still going to be a golf course, and we're still going to maintain it like we do now, but we are a long way from making any decision on that yet," Mr. Wyatt said.

The First Tee's executive director, Jill Brown, said she toured Houndslake's course but downplayed her discussions with Mr. Wyatt.

"Our organization didn't seek out a location in Aiken," Ms. Brown said.

The Augusta program, which has a driving range and 6-hole course off Damascus Road, is interested in expansion, she said, but "we haven't quite perfected what we're doing here."

The First Tee is governed by a 25-member board, most of whom hail from the Peach State, except for state Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken. The program has no immediate plans of expanding to Aiken, Ms. Brown said.

"If the board feels that is in the best interest of the program, that could be a possibility," she said.

Houndslake isn't the only party interested in bringing The First Tee to Aiken.

There are 60 acres of land off U.S. Highway 1 north of Aiken that the city council is considering for the program, City Manager Roger LeDuc said. It's one of several proposals that might receive money from the proposed extension of Aiken County's 1-cent sales tax, which goes before voters in November.

Joe Spencer, who helped found Hook A Kid On Golf, an Aiken program similar to The First Tee but lacking a home course, also has contacted Ms. Brown, she said.

Less fortunate children from Mr. Spencer's program have played on the Laurel course at Houndslake in the past, and not all residents there are opposed to the idea. Some only want more details about the proposal.

"We have kids out here all the time, and that's fine," resident Ted Eno said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.