First Tee kickoff offers golf clinic for kids

Luke Crozier putts on the practice green as Adam McKinney looks on. (Herb Nygren Jr. | Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Bruce Lietzke thinks golf is the best sport there is and showed why.

Taking a short iron, the Senior PGA Tour player hit what he figured was the longest pass his favorite quarterback Tony Romo could throw. He then picked up a longer iron and hit the ball the same distance as a home run at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Then, finally, he pulled out the driver.

“But this is the real reason why golf is cooler than those other sports,” as Lietzke blasted a drive into oblivion, drawing oohs and ahhs from the youngsters in attendance.

It was all part of the First Tee Family Kickoff held Saturday afternoon at Pine Springs Golf Course.

Youngsters were treated to a clinic from Lietzke and selected members from The University of Texas at Tyler men’s and women’s golf team. The UT Tyler golf team members also led the kids in Starting New at Golf or SNAG, a set of games where kids use plastic clubs and tennis balls where they hit at different targets. This was followed by a hot dog cookout.

“I felt like this went really well,” said Christian Sarran, program director for The First Tee of Greater Tyler. “We really feel like this is something that kids want and something that everyone can do.

“We are part of The First Tee initiative to reach 10,000,000 youths across the country. Here in the Greater Tyler area, we are looking to have 500 kids go through our program in the next few years.”

Saturday’s event was the first opportunity for kids to register. The First Tee program, for boys and girls ages 7 to 15, will officially start with a fall session Sept. 13 through Oct. 15 at Pine Springs.

“I heard about it in the newspaper,” 10-year-old Shirin Eijsink, of Tyler, said. “It’s fun. I like playing tic-tac-toe.”

In the SNAG tic-tac-toe game, two players take turns trying to putt tennis balls into the right square to get the three X’s and O’s needed to win.

To the victor — Eijsink received her choice of candy.

Tyler’s Keegan Kennah, also 10, plays with his dad every weekend at Pine Springs. He also was good at earning candy, showing off his skills as he chipped tennis balls at selected targets.

“It’s all about kids that can hit their first ball and just having fun,” Kennah said. “It’s kind of (strange) hitting tennis balls, but it’s fun.”

From its inception in 1997, The First Tee’s mission has been to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.

The nine core values of The First Tee are honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

Sarran said those interested in finding out more information about the First Tee of Great Tyler can visit www.thefirstteegreatertyler.org to sign up or find out more information. He said the website is expected to be up in the next few days.

“The kids were using the SNAG equipment (today), and it’s designed for beginners. For kids to use the basics of the game, but also to do activities,” Sarran said. “We play golf baseball, golf tic-tac-toe and have different setups that make the game of golf easy and fun for kids of all ages.

“We’ve partnered with Pine Springs, being a public community course to make it affordable and accessible for everyone to come out when they want to.” 

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