Officials aiming for young-golfers program First Tee to draw on PGA Senior Tour stop in Columbia

March 05, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

A group of Howard County leaders is hoping to use this summer's stop in Columbia by the PGA Senior Tour as a springboard for establishing a young-golfers program in the county and luring a permanent PGA Senior Tour event to the county.

The politicians, attorneys, Columbia Association leaders and community activists announced yesterday that they plan to ask the Professional Golfers Association to help start a program called First Tee. Aimed at getting youngsters aged 8 to 18 into the sport, the First Tee program depends on building new courses -- from three to 18 holes -- that are affordable and accessible. The program gets funding and technical aid from the World Golf Foundation, an industry consortium.

"It would be great to give kids who wouldn't normally get a chance to play golf an opportunity to build character and learn the game," said County Councilman C. Vernon Gray. "Golf teaches lifetime qualities that are good for our young people as we move into the 21st century."

Gray was one of a number of community leaders at yesterday's news conference that also included Columbia land-use attorneys Richard B. Talkin and David A. Carney, Columbia Association President Padraic Kennedy, County Executive Charles I. Ecker and Donald Reuwer, a county developer.

The group also pushed Howard County as the site for a new PGA-sponsored Tournament Players Club golf course that would serve as a permanent home for an annual stop on the PGA Senior Tour.

This summer, the Hobbit's Glen course in the Harper's Choice village will sponsor the Senior PGA Tour, an event that could bring as much as $30 million to the area. The tournament, with a purse of $1.3 million, runs July 3 to 5.

It is expected to be broadcast on ESPN. State Farm Insurance is the primary sponsor.

Gray, who initiated yesterday's meeting, said he hopes to get the First Tee program going by building a three-hole training course near one of the seven golf courses in the county.

By establishing a partnership with one of the major golf courses, Gray says, he wants children to have a place to continue to play.

PGA Tour officials say that the First Tee program needs a five-year commitment from a local group, which would be responsible for raising start-up funds that could be as much as $500,000.

There are 15 First Tee courses in planning stages across the country. With the program expanding quickly because of Tiger Woods' popularity, the First Tee group plans to have 100 similar courses -- ranging from pitch-and-putt courses to three-hole, nine-hole and 18-hole facilities -- built in the next two years.

Among the suggestions for locating a First Tee facility were Reuwer's new golf course at Waverly Woods off Old Frederick Road in Ellicott City and a parcel off Route 144 near the Howard County Fairgrounds.

"We need to get together the golf course owners in the county and see what kind of interest there is and what we can work out," said Ecker.

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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