With the popping tones of a “Snapper” and the squeals of the “SNAG-a-zoos” echoing against the walls of the Tom Sykes Recreation Center gymnasium, you wouldn’t think golf lessons are being taught.
But that is exactly how young elementary school children learn the sport in the recreation’s center’s Start Smart golf program. It’s most recent six-week session started Dec. 4 with seven boys hacking through the game’s fundamentals under the direction of Tom Sykes staff.
The term “Start Smart” refers to Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation’s collection of instructional-level sports primarily for children 2-6 years old. Sports offered in the non-competitive Start Smart environment include basketball, soccer, football, and baseball.
Many recreation centers and parks around the county offer this level of athletics. However, the Start Smart golf program is offered to children up to 8 years old.
Start Smart golf sessions are open in the winter and spring. Facility manager Katie Robinson said the county’s program started at the now-closed First Ward Recreation Center five years ago. The Tom Sykes Center, 1501 Euclid Ave, Charlotte, has hosted it for three years.
Robinson said the Start Smart golf program can serve as a feeder program for the First Tee golf program, which is a Park and Recreation sponsored youth program offered in the summer and held at the Revolution Park Golf Course on Remount Road.
“Start Smart gives them the basics where they can feed into that program (First Tee) or if they want to work with a pro,” said Robinson. “Start Smart programs in general give them a positive first experience in sports and gives them self-esteem through sports.”
Start Smart golf is one of several afterschool programs the Tom Sykes center makes available. Lego play is offered on Mondays and Tuesdays. Fort building is available on Mondays and art classes are held on Tuesdays. Thursdays are set aside for gaming including video games and board games.
The seven boys registered for this winter’s Start Smart golf are Nelson Waple, 6, Jake and Will Frye (7-year-old twins), Jimmy Pareso, 7, Jack Foodman, 7, Carson Ek, 7, and Angus Foster, 8. All of them attend Dilworth Elementary School, which is adjacent to the Tom Sykes Center and is a partner with the Park and Recreation Department.
SNAG Golf is a brand name whose equipment is used with the Start Smart program. It includes customized tools, such as the Snapper and SNAG-a-zoo, to encourage students to swing properly. SNAG equipment includes length-appropriate clubs with oversized club heads, large balls that resemble tennis balls and portable tees marked with arrows so players know which direction to strike the ball.
At the opening session, Robinson and recreation specialist Joel Kent taught their students how to drive, chip, and putt by aiming toward Velcro targets. When Kent hit the bull’s eye on his putting demonstration, his gracious audience cheered and danced.
Of the class, Jimmy Pareso was the only one with any Start Smart golf experience. It showed in the chipping drill when he was the only player to land one of his shots on the bull’s eye.
“I landed it on the 40 (ring of the bull’s eye),” said Jimmy. “I was excited when I shot it.”
By the end of the six weeks, Robinson and Kent will lead their golfers through some fun-filled games in the outdoors. Players will play a makeshift miniature golf course and test their skills in longest drive and closest-to-the-pin competitions.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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