Ex-teacher has big plans for those little golfers

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

October 24, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

IF YOU didn't know that Don Van Deusen was a retired educator, after listening to him talk about plans for the First Tee youth golf program in Howard County, you'd be able to guess his former occupation.

The man who taught physical education, coached and was an athletic director in county high schools for 33 years radiates - over the telephone, no less - enthusiasm about getting back into public schools to promote golf for kids.

"We think we're just going to get bigger and bigger," said Van Deusen. He is not only First Tee director locally but, since retiring this year from the school system, also assistant general manager of the Columbia Park and Recreation Association's two 18-hole golf courses - and he is a 5-handicap player.

There is evidence of that growth, not the least of which is an addition to the tiny, ancient clubhouse at the Columbia Association's Fairway Hills Golf Course, where First Tee has its headquarters.

It had been expected to be in use by now, but that 35-foot- by-35-foot addition got buried in association paperwork last year. But now a contractor has been hired, plans are going through covenant approval in Columbia's Dorsey's Search village and building permits from Howard County will be next, Van Deusen said.

"We're hoping to have footings in place before the weather turns really bad," he said. "And we're planning a grand opening for next spring."

The $120,000 addition, on the cart-servicing end of the clubhouse, will house a multipurpose room for classes in golf and life skills that First Tee enrollees are required to take, as well as restrooms. There will be space for nets so that youngsters can practice strokes in bad weather, which means that First Tee's program will run longer than just during summer. Synthetic carpet will facilitate indoor putting, too.

Next month, Van Deusen said, he will be taking a pilot golf program into Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton. Seventh- and eighth-graders will get a dose of his golf evangelism through physical education classes.

"We're hoping to do a partnership with the county school system after that," he said.

In addition to First Tee's warm-weather program at the Columbia Park and Recreation Association's Fairway Hills Golf Course, Van Deusen experimented this summer with one-day visits by a Head Start program from Ellicott City and another day care program.

He has also tried full-family sessions, in which parents and siblings of youngsters in the program joined in golf lessons given the little ones.

"We even had some 5- and 6-year-olds," he said, "but that's a little young."

True. But then, as any parent - or educator - can attest, you never know what sticks in a young child's brain. Which is the idea behind First Tee, a golf industry program to increase the number of youthful players in what has become an increasingly "old" sport.

Any child can participate in First Tee, but the program is targeted at minorities and those whose ability to pay for initial participation is limited. Children get free basic equipment and lessons, as well as chances to play with mentors.

Coaches are trained to work with children by the national First Tee program. Van Deusen said the program is being tweaked to bolster retention; he estimates that about half of those who took part initially have stayed with it.

First Tee-Howard County's popularity has grown so much since lessons began three summers ago at Fairway Hills that, for the first time, it has a small waiting list, Van Deusen said.

And that means, he said, possible involvement by other county golf courses in the future.

MORE GOLF: Remember last year when the county-owned Timbers at Troy golf course tried to set up a county open championship but almost no one signed up? It won't happen this fall, either, but general manager Kyle Warfield said a new try can be expected next year.

GOOD SPORTS?: The Mid-Atlantic Recreation and Parks Sports Alliance is seeking nominees for its first sportsmanship awards. The alliance consists of rec and parks agencies from Northern Virginia and much of Maryland that are cooperating on blacklisting from all facilities anyone banned from one member's properties.

But it is also giving awards for extraordinary, positive work to athletes or adults in any sports program using public park facilities. Check soon with Mike Milani in the Howard County agency for more info, soon: 410-313-4706.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com.

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