Lakewood Reaches Out, Builds Dreams Through Zurich Classic Kids Golf Clinic

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The  students at the Zurich Classic Kids Clinic

When I approached Lakewood’s PGA Director of Golf Brad Weaver and Vice President of Operations Cynthia Rico last September about beginning a weekly outreach school program, they jumped at the opportunity to give back to our city and grow golf. 

Fast-forward to this past Monday, where I am on a yellow school bus full of hope, dreams, anticipation and excitement as we head on our way to the Zurich Classic Kids Golf Clinic. The other passengers on the bus were my students, 4th graders from Martin Behrman Charter School.

I took the time during the ride to reflect back, (except when our bus driver Cleveland told the children more than once to stay seated with your feet in the aisle) and recalled that these kids are the age when I started playing golf.  I remember the excitement and wanted to relive that feeling through the kids. That is why I was on the bus – to hearken back to the same excitement I had a mere 46 years ago.

Building a relationship with a school just doesn’t happen; it takes work with caring people. 

My first point person was assistant principal Cherie Goins.  She took the ball and ran with it.  Principal Rene’ Lewis-Clark and assistant principal Brian Young also embraced the concept. 

I was then introduced to two real heroes in their first years with the school: Coach Colby Knapp from Ashland, Oregon, and Coach Reggie Field of Brooklyn, New York. 

Martin Behrman Charter School, formerly a high school, is a crown jewel in historic Algiers Point founded in 1719.  The school, opened in 1929, is named after Mayor Martin Behrman who spent 17 years in office from 1904-1920 and held the position longer than any mayor in the history of New Orleans.  Presently undergoing a tedious renovation to bring it back to the architectural glory of 1929, this school truly is a landmark for our city.

I could not have been on that bus without the help of the PGA of America during the past year.  Lakewood PGA Apprentice Rick Mashaw taught with me weekly.  We had guest instructors from the Gulf States Section PGA come and assist with our teaching.  Executive Director Robert Brown, Director of Junior Golf Jaime Anderson and Tournament Director Brandon Roll saw the importance of the program and have made major contributions.  On the day of the clinic, with the Martin Behrman Golf Program participants all wearing PGA caps, we were walking tall.

When we got off the bus, that moment was like landing on the moon for some. The TPC of Louisiana was in perfect condition.  General Manager Luke Farabaugh, PGA, was there to greet us.

I purposely wanted to arrive early to take the children on the golf course.  We then saw Jim Henderson, award winning television sports broadcaster and the voice of the New Orleans Saints. Jim spent ten minutes conducting a question-and-answer session with the children. 

We then saw UNO head coach Chris McCarter, a two-time golf coach of the year in Louisiana and two-time coach of the year in the Sun Belt Conference (all since Katrina). Chris gave encouraging words with an emphasis on the importance of academics. 

We then saw James Leitz, PGA, one of the most respected golf instructors in the country. James has 12 of his students in this year’s Zurich Classic field. He took time to tell the children anything is possible with hope and desire. 

We then walked by the impressive corporate tents. Along the way, we walked down hole #18, crossed over to holes #8 and #9.  The students were able to see a par 5, par 4 and par 3. I explained the concept of birdie, par and bogey as we travelled along.

It was now getting close to the time of the clinic.  Tommy Fonseca, tournament director, came over to say hello.  The children of Martin Behrman had the best viewing area.  They were ten yards behind Steve Stricker, the #3 ranked golfer in the world.

On the other side was Kelly Gibson, PGA Tour Veteran from Algiers, giving what I believe was his best performance of the 20 clinics he has given sponsored by the Fore! Kids Foundation and Ochsner Hospital.  Kelly then invited Steve over to give a demonstration that showed us all why he is one of the world’s best. 

The momentum of the day was peaking during the time Kelly asked questions on golf to the group. A correct answer received a new golf ball just used by the PGA Tour players on the practice range; the majority of the golf balls were given to Martin Behrman.

Gibson, who has given so much back to New Orleans and has truly earned the title of our favorite son, shows us that you can win on-and-off the golf course. He then introduced our featured guest, Dennis Walters. 

Dennis, who is paralyzed from the waist down, has not let this stop his love for golf.  He has a very intelligent partner in his dog named Bucky in honor of his dad’s name.  Bucky can count and is a real show stealer.  Dennis has so much talent in spite of his challenges.  He can hit trick golf shots that most people could only wish to achieve. His performance kept the children’s excitement level sky high.

Dennis Walters is a gift to golf.  When he told the children that you can dream to be anything you want to be and overcome any hurdle in life, hundreds of children left TPC Louisiana inspired, along with every adult there, too.

When I hopped back on the ole yellow bus for the ride back, the noise was three times louder than on the way over.  This day of golf made a difference in many young people’s lives. 

As I sat in my seat on the way back to school, Coach Field told me the students were given the greatest gifts you can give a child – knowledge and exposure.  Coach Knapp said the children were given the opportunity to see golf at a world class level. We are so thankful to Lakewood.

In closing, it really was a amazing day that reminds us all that dreams can come true.

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