Colbert Hills Golf Course
Earl Woods National Youth Golf Academy uses golf to teach life skills
By Keener A. Tippin II
Chip Shot spies his golf ball in the thick rough behind a rock, making for an almost impossible shot. He could easily move the ball. No one's looking. But this is a gentleman's game; one of honesty. Besides, no one would be the wiser -- except Shot's conscience. He opts to chip it out a few feet to the side.
Once on the green, Shot takes a careful read of his putt, lines it up, looks at the hole, takes a few practice strokes and lines the ball up again. In the midst of his practice strokes, Shot accidentally moves the ball. Undaunted, he rolls it slowly to the cup where it falls into the bottom of the hole.
As he marks his scorecard, Shot accounts for the two penalty strokes in his score for the hole even though no one would be the wiser. After all, this hole is for integrity.
Golf may not be life, but there are certain life and leadership skills that can be learned through the game, according to the directors of the Earl Woods National Youth Golf Academy, based at the Colbert Hills Golf Course at Kansas State University.
The Earl Woods National Youth Golf Academy is named in honor of the 1953 graduate of K-State, for his life accomplishments -- including being the first African-American baseball player in the Big Seven Conference, and his distinguished 20-year military career in the U.S. Army (1954-74) where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and served two tours of duty in Vietnam, 1962-63, and 1970-71. Earl Woods is the father of PGA golfer Tiger Woods.
The academy and Colbert Hills hosted the inaugural First Tee National Academy, July 22-29, 2000. This first-of-its-kind event brought 120 youngsters, ranging from ages 14 to 16, from more than 93 First Tee Youth Golf chapters around the United States to Manhattan for a week-long academy that featured golf clinics, leadership development workshops, life skills workshops, career exploration, meetings with sports figures representing the values of golf, and an opportunity to develop lasting friendships with youth from around the nation.
Two First Tee youth, ages 14-16 years old, from each local First Tee chapter were selected for the one week First Tee National Golf Academy, hosted by the Earl Woods National Youth Golf Academy. Youngsters were nominated by the directors and selected by the national First Tee office.
The First Tee program was established in 1997 to provide affordable and accessible playing and learning opportunities for beginning golfers -- with a special emphasis on kids. Local First Tee chapters provide youth with an introduction to the game.
Academy directors Veryl Switzer and Reginland McGowan used golf as a vehicle to teach youth life lessons through three separate components under the umbrella of the Earl Woods National Youth Golf Academy -- the inaugural First Tee National Academy, the K-State Upward Bound First Tee Academy and the local First Tee Academy. Each component revolved around the state-of-the-art course.
More than instructions in golf, McGowan and Switzer said the Woods Academy also introduced young people who haven't had an opportunity to be involved with the sport to career development opportunities in the golf field such as turf or club management.
"I think this is a wonderful opportunity for them," McGowan said.
The program used a variety of venues such as the Gear Up Program, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, the Girl Scouts, local schools and K-State's TRIO Programs to identify disadvantaged youth and offered the opportunity to compete and play the sport for recreation and leisure experiences.
McGowan said the First Tee Program, which places a strong emphasis on introducing the game to youth of all races and economic backgrounds, has generated interest throughout the country because community and state leaders recognize golf's value as a recreational outlet that can be enjoyed for a lifetime and have a positive impact on a child's life.
"There are nine core values that we are establishing for the academy -- integrity, confidence, responsibility, trust, respect, courtesy, equity, accountability and the 'edge' to compete in life and golf," said McGowan. "Each of the nine holes at the Colbert Hills teaching course will have a core value assigned to it and a particular curriculum that will go along with it. In addition, 25 student leaders from the K-State leadership studies program will serve as curriculum mentors for the program.
"I think we have to teach kids the right way to play the game," McGowan continued. "One of the concerns I know is that traditional people who have been playing the game of golf are very worried about the value system changing with the inclusion of nontraditional individuals. I think it is important that we preserve that value system."
Participants in the Earl Woods National Youth Golf Academy were introduced to the First Tee Life Skills Curriculum, leadership development around golf life core values and career exploration. Golf clinics included presentations by LPGA, PGA TOUR and local PGA/LPGA professionals. Participants also took part in recreational activities, as well as a golf tournament during the last two days of the academy program. Colbert participated in conducting clinics during the Earl Woods National Youth Golf Academy.
Switzer viewed the academy as the "highlight" of the program's first year. He said he hopes the participants were able to take back the lessons they have learned at Colbert Hills to their local chapters and to their communities.
"Each youngster is expected to become a mentor back at their home chapter," Switzer said.