As you read The Augusta Chronicle this morning, the second round of the Junior Invitational golf tournament is getting under way at the Sage Valley Golf Club in Graniteville.
This event is only in its second year, but already has been rated the No. 1 junior golf tournament in the world.
A large number of prominent men and women have devoted countless hours to make the tournament an unforgettable experience for the 54 top-rated junior golfers in the world fortunate enough to receive an invitation. Getting this international ranking and recognition is richly deserved, but that was not the reason the tournament was conceived by Weldon Wyatt and Paul Simon. The single reason for this tournament is to generate money to support the local and national First Tee programs. In 2011, $200,000 went to those groups.
The First Tee’s mission statement is, “To impact the lives of young people by promoting educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.” The First Tee has established nine core values that represent not just the positive values connected with the game of golf, but also of life.
Many First Tee facilities name the golf holes on their courses by these values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
I have come to know many of the Augusta First Tee kids and have watched how they respond to both success and adversity. What these kids learn and experience at The First Tee works. Independent studies report that 73 percent of participants who took part in the First Tee Life Skills Experience felt the program gave them the confidence to excel in the classroom. One hundred percent said that they used the life skills they learned through First Tee at school.
There is no mention of religion in First Tee’s mission statement, but surely the group’s founders must have been familiar with the words of Proverbs 22:6: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
As good a job as The First Tee is doing with this Biblical exhortation, the rest of our society seems to be lagging far behind. The daily news is filled with horrible stories of child abuse, children killing children, child gangs, and children having sex in classrooms.
Marriage and the traditional family unit seem to be not just irrelevant, but on the brink of extinction. I don’t see the current church doing much better. Granted, most churches have a “youth program” for the children of the church members, but how many of those church members are involved with children who have no church, no family, and no hope?
The First Tee offers us a template to do something for children. It would be a good idea to cut out The First Tee mission statement and its nine core values and put them on the refrigerator.
Perhaps it may serve as a reminder for us to do something lasting for just one child. If that happens, then we fulfill Jesus’ words in Luke 18:16-17, “Suffer the little children to come unto me for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
THE REV. JOE BOWDEN IS ASSISTING PRIEST AT THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER IN MARTINEZ.