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Thursday, Apr 25, 2019
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Y’s First Tee program introduces kids to golf

TAMPA – Wally Mayne couldn’t be happier. He works with kids, gets to play golf, and helps out with one of the biggest organizations for kids in the whole golf world.

Mayne, who juggles his time between Rogers Park Golf Club and Countryway Golf Club, works with The First Tee of Tampa Bay, a program of the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA. The organization started in 1991 at Rogers Park in Tampa. The program took off, with underprivileged kids learning the game under its tutelage, and in 1998 the Tampa area YMCA joined to help.

The program offers affordable chances for kids to learn how to play golf, but it goes beyond simply making par.

More than 40,000 kids get the chance to learn golf through the First Tee program. It teaches life skills, such as how to meet people, and also to set attainable goals.

Mayne, who has a friendly way of working with children, enjoys teaching kids the game he loves the most. On a recent Saturday at Countryway, Mayne was sweating it out with the kids and it was tough to tell who was enjoying it the most.

“I am so lucky,” Mayne said. “I’ve been lucky to be around golf my whole life. I am not just teaching golf: I and the First Tee are teaching life skills. That’s what makes it so exciting. It’s a great program to see the kids test their skills.”

The First Tee has two separate groups at Countryway. It starts for kids ages 7 and older, but it is broken into two teams. There are the experienced kids and those who aren’t so experienced.

Mayne developed what he calls the “Shamble” tournament that is played every other week. The kids are divided into teams and play scramble golf off the tee. After that, it’s stroke play. In other words, in team golf, everyone hits a tee shot and the players on the team hit their next shot from where the best ball sits. From there, everyone is on their own.

It’s a unique format, but it has been a fun way to introduce golf to kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to learn the game.

Mayne said he has always loved the game, but one of his favorite moments came recently when a kid walked up to his approach shot on Countryway’s fifth hole, and hit one of the most memorable shots Mayne has seen, and he’s seen a lot of golf.

The kid nailed it from 100 yards. He wasn’t the best golfer in the group, he simply hit a shot of a lifetime. Bottom of the cup.

“We are still talking about it,” Mayne said. “Not just about the shot, but about the smile on the kid’s face. I have never seen anything like it. You play this game and never see something like the look on that kid’s face. That’s what First Tee is all about.”

First Tee offers golf clubs to underprivileged kids. About 50 percent of the kids in First Tee are underprivileged and would likely never get a chance to play on a golf course. Mayne gets plenty of support with First Tee from people like Jim Vath, Mark Profit and Jeff Leonard, who also are involved with First Tee. Mayne doesn’t like to take a lot of credit, but he knows that First Tee is making a difference.

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