Youth golf program could tee off on Hilton Head

bheffernan@islandpacket.comJuly 24, 2013 

A national youth program that aims to teach golf's lessons, as well as its rules, might soon have a new clubhouse on Hilton Head.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry tentatively agreed last month to open a local chapter of The First Tee -- the first of many steps required to bring the program to the island.

Kim Likins, executive director of the Hilton Head Island Boys & Girls Club, said the club plans to build a practice facility -- complete with a driving range, chipping area and a practice green -- near its building on Gumtree Road.

She said the program is an opportunity to introduce youth, ages 5 through 18, to the game and its values.

"They're going to learn the fundamentals of golf -- the swing, the game and everything -- but what they're really going to walk away with is character education and life skills," she said.

Moreover, Hilton Head's First Tee chapter would offer an affordable way to learn to play golf by offering scholarships and keeping fees low, Likins said.

"We are known as a golf community, and we would love to feel that we are growing the game of golf," but many can't afford to learn how to play, she said.

Club officials must craft a business plan to make lessons affordable and raise money to build a practice facility within the next 10 months, Likins said.

At the end of that period, they must report back to program officials about the local chapter's progress.

Likins said a Boys & Girls Club committee has spent a year of planning. Its work included visits to chapters in Savannah and Columbia, where First Tee has similar facilities.

The Hilton Head chapter would be First Tee's only chapter in Beaufort County and its seventh in South Carolina. It has about 200 chapters throughout the U.S., as well as six in foreign countries.

Many of those chapters have partnered with local Boys & Girls Clubs, said Al Arrigoni, associate director of First Tee's Southeast region.

He said successful chapters are largely built upon strong community leadership and support -- something the Hilton Head Boys & Girls Club seems to have.

Having access to a golf course also is important, Arrigoni said.

Likins said chapter organizers have approached the Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association and several courses in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island about hosting the program, and many have volunteered to give students time on their courses.

However, the chapter's activity would largely be centered around a proposed practice facility, estimated to cost between $650,000 and $1 million, that would be built on about 13 acres of town-owned land on Gumtree Road, she said.

Town staff and council members have discussed leasing the parcel to the chapter for $1 a year, but no commitments have been made yet, town manager Steve Riley said.

However, he said the town purchased 10 of the 13 acres for $250,000 on March 5 in anticipation of the project using it.

A lease agreement could be brought to Town Council within the next few months, Riley said.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.

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