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First Tee helps young golfers learn life skills

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — They come in all ages. Some are taller than others. Some may hit the ball a little farther right now but they all have the same goal. They are the youth players enjoying and excelling in The First Tee program.

A national organization, the First Tee operates clinics and camps for children, two locations being the Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Club in Clearwater and Rogers Park Golf Course in Tampa.

“When I first started I was a little nervous,” said player Panagioti Bousdoukos.

Bousdoukos has enjoyed playing the game for nearly two years. He has worked under instructors like Karen Wise, the Program Director for the First Tee of Clearwater.

“We focus on four golf skills. So we’ll focus on putting, chipping, full swing and pitching,” Wise said. “We watch their swing. We find out what their goals are and then we individualize our teaching style to the student.”

Ashton Washington grew up in the First Tee program in Tampa. He recalls the stages of progression, first working the short game away from the main course.

“Once you can get a certain score on that, you can graduate to the next level and then play on the regular course,” Washington said.

The First Tee is not just about the mechanics of golf. The rules of golf are etched into memory which leads to the game’s etiquette. This may be the lesson that lasts the longest as the kids get older.

“It gives the kids a great opportunity to not only intermingle and learn the rules, standards and core values of the game of golf but it also gives them an opportunity to learn life’s lessons,” said parent Charlie Diamond.

“The person that’s actually scoring would want you to be honest and have integrity while they’re not looking at you,” added Washington.

It is a game of extraordinary achievement and confidence. Bousdoukos, the Clearwater First Tee player found the game nearly by accident. He was born with a form of dysplasia which affected his hands and legs. Grueling physical therapy sessions, meant to work on normal movements, led to fun challenges. Eventually, Bousdoukos began swinging a golf club.

“We were just playing around with it during physical therapy, so we came to check it out,” said his mother Theodora Bousdoukos. “I’m watching my son today. He’s out there coaching the little ones and he’s helping them become better and focus in on it.  I never expected that.”

“I didn’t do good first swings but after a while, they’d get better and better,” Bousdoukos said. “This program is really fun that we can also meet new friends.”