Professional golfers are used to delays and postponements because of weather, so when a pop-up thunderstorm rolled over Tulane on Tuesday, the four visiting stars from the Golf Channel who were set to do an exhibition for a group of young summer campers, just rolled with it.
Christian Heavens, Clay Myers and Wesley Yates, all from the Golf Channel’s “Big Break,” and Shep Archie, from the new show “Altered Course,” took their clubs and their skills inside the Tulane Recreation Center to entertain a group of youngsters who “swore” their favorite sport was golf — at least, after the show, which included trick shots, a couple of exploding golf balls and a few lessons on respect, responsibility and sportsmanship.
All four visitors, who played in a local golf tournament over the weekend, also are alumni of their local chapters of The First Tee, a nonprofit outreach program which teaches life skills through golf.
The First Tee of Greater New Orleans hosted Tuesday’s event, which was to take place in Turchin Stadium before Mother Nature intervened. It all was designed to help spread the love for the game, as well as educate kids on the opportunities around them.
“It’s tough having access to it,” said Heavens, who said his grandfather got him into the game as a youngster. He later helped start the First Tee chapter in the St. Louis area and went on to earn a First Tee scholarship to Georgetown College in Kentucky. “If my grandfather didn’t play golf and bring me around it, I probably wouldn’t be playing it. I probably would have just played basketball like all my cousins.”
Yates, who grew up in the Atlanta area, started playing when he was 6-years-old.
“My dad took, like, two lessons,” he said. “And has not picked up a club since. But the second lesson, I said, ‘I’m going to go with you, just to see what it’s about.’ I kind of just fell in love with it.”
It was sort of love at first swing for 11-year-old Kobe Narcisse of Gretna too. A four-year member of the local First Tee organization, Kobe’s dad, Robert, introduced him to golf and brought him to Tuesday’s event. Kobe also loves the game.
“Well, it’s not a sport you can get injured in,” Kobe Narcisse said. “There are a lot of kids that are nice, who will help you out if you hit a bad shot. If you fail, it’s all about you. There’s no team. There’s no one else to say, ‘Oh. You ruined the game.’ It’s a self-sufficient sport.”
Robert Narcisse said the game — and the First Tee organization — has done great things for his son.
“It adds a lot of structure to his life,” he said. “He knows that he has to practice to get better. And I think he enjoys the fact that he’s starting to see the fruits of his labor. He’s getting better at it.”
“We teach character organization, life skills and good habits,” said Chip Patterson, the Executive Director of First Tee of Greater New Orleans. “Golf is just the platform we use to do that. We’re not a junior golf program. We’re trying to teach kids how to be good people. That’s our ultimate goal.”
But kids in the program also earn rewards as they achieve certain skill levels — including free rounds of golf, scholarships to summer camps and, in Heavens’ case, even college scholarships. Patterson pointed out that a whopping 8 percent of high school golfers earn college scholarships, as opposed to only 3 percent of high school football players.
“The percentage is the highest of any high school sport,” Patterson said. “Baseball is comparable at 7 percent.”
Perhaps the Golf Channel guy converted a few would-be golfers Tuesday by chipping into a bucket or bouncing a ball on the end of a club. They certainly handed out at least a bucket of autographed balls.
“It was great,” Myers said. “We didn’t know what to expect. The kids were all fun and energetic. We didn’t expect to give out golf balls, but we all emptied out our bags today.”