Eye On KELOLAND: Fore seasons for First Tee

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Many people sought the socially-distanced safety of the sprawling golf course during the pandemic. And now a new generation is following in their footsteps.

First Tee-South Dakota, the non-profit that teaches golfing and life lessons to young players, has seen a big jump in participants this year. It’s an increase that organizers trace back to the pandemic, even though fewer players were allowed to take part last summer.

Now, First Tee is looking to take its game indoors.

Little duffers are taking a mighty big swing at Elmwood Golf Course.

“I can hit the ball really far,” Madilyn Grote said.

Soon-to-be 7-year-old Madilyn Grote is working on her long and short games as part of First Tee-South Dakota.

“You never know how hard you have to swing, so you accidentally might do it too small or too hard,” Madilyn said.

Madilyn’s grandma says the lessons are paying off.

“They have that natural little swing and they haven’t learned all the bad habits that we have so, maybe it’s easier if you start earlier,” Jean Nicholson said.

Instructors are mindful that young golfers need a wide latitude in learning the game.

“How you teach them is just trial and error. We don’t even really give them, at this age, a lot of technique. But they model what the coaches are telling them and showing them,” First Tee Executive Director Coralee Jorgensen said.

But much of First Tee isn’t about learning new skills with the club. It’s also about teaching kids lessons beyond the golf course.

“I think a lot of what they teach is respect for other people and for the game, all those good things we want them to know,” Nicholson said.

First Tee had to cut class sizes in half last year because of the pandemic. Yet interest in the sport has only grown stronger.

“What we found last year was also, we couldn’t share clubs, we didn’t want that touching point. So we gave all the kids their own clubs and what happens was the kids came back and played and brought grandmas and grandpas, they brought their parents,” Jorgensen said.

First Tee has been an annual fixture at the Sanford International held at the Minnehaha Country Club. The program has been a recipient of some of the proceeds from the PGA Tour Champions event. First Tee is encouraged that the event has been extended for another two-years through 2024, because of its impact on players of all ages.

“The Sanford International has been a great firecracker for starting kids and getting kids excited about golf and I think it’s been wonderful for us. Sanford Health has been gracious enough to pass through some funds to help us,” Jorgensen said.

First Tee wants to continue growing by building its own indoor facility. That way, these little golfers can practice and play their sport year-round.

“After-school programs, STEM programs, work with Sanford on their Harmony programs. There’s a lot more we could do, it will obviously take staff, resources and potentially, a building,” Jorgensen said.

While First Tee is working out the financing for a building of its own, Jorgensen hopes the paperwork can be finalized by the end of this year. Expanding to a year-round program would bring these young golfers’ game, and the life lessons learned, to a whole new level.

Earlier this week in a KELOLAND.com Original, we introduced you to the two local golfers who have been named to represent First Tee-South Dakota in a PGA Tour Champions event at Pebble Beach in September.

If you’re interested in registering your child in First Tee, click here

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