WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Reagan Pyle had three goals on Youth Day at the Greenbrier Classic: to get autographs from Tom Watson, Bubba Watson and Nick Faldo. As of 1:30 p.m., the 9-year-old golfer had Tom Watson’s and Faldo’s.
Reagan started golfing when she was 7, her father Chris Pyle said Tuesday. The two, from Roanoke, Virginia, attended the Youth Day Junior Clinic, where kids watched pros James Driscoll and Shawn Stefani, as well as The Greenbrier’s own trick-shot artist Billy Winters.
“I think it’s just fun,” Reagan said of golf. “It’s just a fun thing to do with your family.”
Pyle didn’t come to golf until he was in college, but he said he wanted both Reagan and her older brother to learn the game, along with tennis.
“I was determined that both my kids will know how to play tennis and golf, because they’re the two games you can play your whole life,” Pyle said.
Youth Day was organized by The First Tee, whose goal is to bring children and teenagers onto the golf course and get them interested in the game, said Jonathan Bartlett, the organization’s West Virginia director.
“What we’re trying to do is impact the lives of our youth by introducing them to the game of golf, but also introducing them to what we feel are nine core values and healthy habits,” Bartlett said.
Those values are ones The First Tee wants kids to take off the golf course and into life: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
While her son Seth isn’t involved in The First Tee, Princess Fogus said he attends the Junior Clinic every year at the Classic.
Seth, 10, has been playing golf since his mother took him onto a course at the age of 3, Fogus said.
“We would skip every few holes. He shot 216, but he would not give up. He made sure he got that ball in there,” Fogus said. “But now on a nine-hole [course], he can shoot …”
“75,” Seth chimed in.
“He’s improved, and he does every hole this time,” Fogus said with a laugh.
The two have been to every Greenbrier Classic, Fogus said. Seth went to the Junior Clinic to get tips on how to improve his game, which he shyly described as “OK.”
“[I learned] the higher the golf ball is, the more it curves over,” Seth said. “Mine’s been curving over.”
Winters showed young and youthful spectators a variety of ways to hit — and to not hit — golf balls. With golf balls teed up as much as waist-high from the ground, Winters explained that the higher the ball sits, the more it will bend as it sails through the air. Seth said the demonstration showed him he needs “to put the tee farther in the ground.”
The First Tee also works to bring golf to kids who might never see or own a set of clubs otherwise. That’s what attracted Pyle to the organization when he and his family lived in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“I believed in what they were doing so much. The facility was really accessible to the inner city of Little Rock, so the kids that couldn’t afford country clubs and expensive golf courses had a place to go play,” said Pyle, who eventually became a member of its board of directors.
Getting young people and women interested in golf are two ways to sustain the sport, Bartlett said, and The First Tee focuses on the former.
“Right now, the youth is a primary way that we believe we can really get golfing in the state of West Virginia. In a perfect world, we start with The First Tee. When they get to 14 or 15 years of age, they will go into our Callaway Junior Tour. And then from there, heaven forbid they get a golf scholarship. Or they just enjoy the game of golf,” Bartlett said.
The First Tee also makes golf more accessible for those whose families might not otherwise be able to afford lessons and tee times, Bartlett said.
“I think it opens up to kids being introduced to the game that sometimes come from families where times are tough,” Bartlett said. “Let’s face it, with what the country has been through for the last five or six years, people have gotten hit hard.”
Kids younger than 15 years old could attend Youth Day for free, and parents paid only $25 for admission. Six weeks of golf lessons through The First Tee for kids ages 5-7 costs $50. It’s $75 for kids 8-15.
“You can’t beat that,” Bartlett said.
Fogus, of White Sulphur Springs, said the First Tee program is “a great opportunity for kids.”
“I know being a parent here in White Sulphur, it’s introduced a lot of kids to golf that normally wouldn’t have been exposed to it,” she said.
Reach Rachel Molenda at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5102.