Since early spring, Jay Mauldin has spent most Saturday mornings driving his 8-year-old son from El Reno to Oklahoma City to take part in The First Tee golf program at the organization’s Learning Center off Martin Luther King Drive.
As of Thursday afternoon, however, Mauldin may not have to make that 60-mile round trip anymore. Crimson Creek Golf Course was approved to become the newest teaching center for The First Tee of Metropolitan Oklahoma City after a site inspection by the board of the Oklahoma City chapter.
“They had a board meeting last week and we were approved but none of the board had ever been out to Crimson Creek so they sent their golf pro out here to check us out,” said Mauldin.
Mauldin, who played high school golf for the Indians and on scholarship at East Central State in Ada, said the drive to bring the program to El Reno started one morning while watching his son.
“I was sitting there one morning thinking I could spend two hours every Saturday helping one kid or help out even more kids if we had this in El Reno,” said Mauldin.
So after speaking with city of El Reno leaders, Mauldin approached The First Tee of Metropolitan Oklahoma City leaders about starting the program at Crimson Creek.
“I interviewed with Debbie Martin, who is the executive director, and their teaching pro Dustin Semsch. The interview went great but one of the things they were interested in was our vision as to why we wanted to start a location here.
“They were excited to grow the program, which is what their mission is, but they wanted to make sure they had a firm commitment from us. They had started a site in Perry I think, and it went under pretty quick. They wanted to make sure that if we did get something started here that we were not going to leave a bunch of kids high and dry,” said Mauldin.
So other than driving back and forth to Oklahoma City, why did Mauldin envision a program at Crimson Creek?
“You don’t see kids on the course in the summertime anymore. When I was growing up in El Reno, the golf course was our sandlot and that’s where we got dumped off every day and I would like to see that come back. The game has so many things to offer kids,” said Mauldin.
Mauldin said he has watched the numbers of El Reno golfers on the high school level slide in recent years and wanted to help bring those numbers back up any way he could.
“This doesn’t cost the golf course a dime. If you don’t see kids on the course now, you won’t have them out 30 years from now when they are adults. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to get this started,” said Mauldin.
He added what made the El Reno site so appealing to The First Tee program was the city’s willingness to back it.
“The big thing that surprised them was that we had such support from the city and the golf course. Most golf courses will open up very few time slots to use the facility.
“We didn’t have that with Crimson Creek. They want to do whatever it takes to make things work and get the kids out there and playing,” said Mauldin.
They also liked the commitment of Mauldin, who will serve as the El Reno coordinator and instructor – which is also a volunteer position.
“I’ve got 1-year-old twins as well and I told them I would see this thing through. So I’m committed to golf in El Reno for the next 18 years,” said Mauldin.
Mauldin said The First Tee program is open to any age youth in El Reno and is not limited to a specific sector of residents – which is the one bad rap golf has always gotten.
“The First Tee program has things to get kids exposed to golf in a way that they normally might not have the opportunity. It’s not for just the upper class, it’s for everyone,” said Mauldin.
Cost for the program is $25 for a seven-week session. Each session will be one hour long and the first El Reno classes are set to begin Sept. 9. The initial seven-week session will end somewhere after fall break for El Reno Public Schools.
“First Tee provides the golf clubs, the golf balls and everything we need for instruction. They have scholarships available for those who need it,” said Mauldin.
Another benefit of The First Tee program is that there are two more seven-week sessions each year, so a player can attend all three for close to the same price as a private lesson from a golf pro.
Mauldin says the three sessions each year keeps youth players exposed to the sport for a longer period, which hopefully will translate into more kids playing the sport in junior high and high school and beyond.
“I’ve hated to see our numbers drop (high school) and I’m not sure the major reason why. But the one thing about this program is that they have a spring, summer and fall session. So almost half of the year, 21 weeks, kids can be involved in golf and it’s an ongoing thing,” said Mauldin.
He added that being one hour a week, children can still be involved in other sports as well.
“It’s one hour every Saturday morning. As we look to next year we may try and open up some different time slots. In the fall it gets dark early so it’s hard to have sessions on weeknights. However, in the spring we may offer some other days.
‘We want kids to be active in as much as they can so we encourage them to play other sports but to also give golf a try,” said Mauldin.
Mauldin said the El Reno program starts off at age 7 and up.
“I want 7-year-olds all the way up to high school. I want to bring in some junior high kids and high school kids so that they can get into the program for two or three years and then start applying for some college scholarships that they have.
“I want all kids who are interested in playing golf,” said Mauldin.
El Reno’s site will be under the wing of the Metropolitan OKC chapter and all registration and class fees are done and paid for online.
“Everything will run through The First Tee of Metropolitan OKC. They will provide everything we need and I won’t request any money from them. There is a place online for people to donate clubs as well as make a monetary donation to The First Tee if they want.
“However, I’m confident they will provide us all the resources we need,” said Mauldin.
Mauldin said there will be no limit on the number of kids in El Reno who can enroll for the sessions.
“I want every kid who wants to play golf to be able to get in. We will have a session at 9 a.m. and another one at 10 a.m. and if more sessions are needed, I will make it work. We’ve got a good nucleus of volunteer coaches and I won’t let any kid get turned away,” said Mauldin.
The First Tee program does have mandatory participation stages once you are enrolled.
“You can’t miss more than two weeks in any one session to be able to progress on. So I hope when they sign up that they are willing to stay and we will run sessions if we have 15 players or if we have 50,” said Mauldin.
Mauldin said all El Reno golfers will start out on the Player level which has a recommended starting age of 7 years old. Players up until the age of 18 can progress through testing procedures from Par, Birdie, Eagle and then Ace divisions.
“The Ace level is for high school kids and once they get to that level we will bring in a PGA (Professional Golf Association) professional to do a little bit more in-depth swing and golf instruction for the higher levels, which is all paid for by The First Tee.
“The move from Player to Par is based off curriculum and participation,” said Mauldin.
The teaching of core values, said Mauldin, is what makes The First Tee program uniquely different.
“This is not just a camp or a clinic. We are teaching young people about life skills, healthy living habits and core values. We will start teaching with honesty and respect for themselves and others as well as the golf course.
“We will incorporate that information into the practice facility and they will be practicing from day one, weather permitting. We want to teach them core values they will use the rest of their lives,” said Mauldin.
Core values such as honesty, which is key to the game of golf.
“We don’t have referees out there so what other sport is out there where you call a penalty on yourself. Those are the values that we will build into the lesson plans,” said Mauldin.
Mauldin added The First Tee also offers an “In School” program where the core valves can be implemented through physical education classes on the elementary school level.
“They have instruction you can do in PE classes in your school and that may be something our local schools might want to incorporate, but that’s down the line a little bit,” said Mauldin.