For the Kids: First Tee Support 'Amazes' Baker
Bill Baker watched all the golfers coming off the course and marveled.
"It amazes me," he said, "how much support we get and how great the potential is."
Baker is the executive director of The First Tee of the Sandhills, a position he has held for the past year. And he's been astonished to find how The First Tee has been accepted by the community.
"We're still relatively young only six years," he said. "We've been so fortunate to have people such as Bob Burwell, Dick Schwob, Bob Klug, Bill Clement, Bob Hepner and Brady Roland being involved."
Baker could go on to name a dozen more who have aided the young program. But on this sunny day in April he was just trying to name a few who had played prominent roles in making the sixth annual Walmart First Tee Open such a huge success at the Country Club of North Carolina.
"Brady Rowland is the manager of the Walmart in Aberdeen," Baker said, "and he has been wonderful for us. He's our chapter chairperson when it comes to funding and works with Mr. Hepner and Mark Packard as co-chairs. They've been instrumental to our success."
There is no questioning the success of The First Tee's Sandhills Chapter. It was the first chapter founded in North Carolina six years ago and prospered under the guidance of Al Arrigoni for the first four years.
When Arrigoni left two years ago to accept a similar position in Brunswick County, Danny Kirby replaced him, but resigned after a year. Enter Bill Baker, who was working with Avestra as the head professional at Foxfire Country Club and Resort.
The Sandhills Chapter remains one of the more successful in the country, and Baker is determined to keep it on track.
"When we look back at the numbers involved, 2006 was a very successful year," he said. "We've gotten back to those numbers now, and we see about 300 kids at our encore program."
For those not familiar with The Fist Tee, it's a program designed to teach youngsters not only about golf, but also life values. First Tee attendees and graduates come away with a poise and confidence that serves them well in life.
Those nine core values are: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
"The most satisfying thing for me is to go out on the course with the beginning players and watch them progress, not only in their games, but in their attitudes and confidence," Baker said. "That is most gratifying. If I couldn't be a coach, it wouldn't be nearly as satisfying."
The director's job is sometimes daunting, but Baker is working to -- if not simplify it -- at least make it less complicated and time-consuming.
"We're automating some of the administrative duties," he said, "and forming a computer base.
"What we really need to work on now is getting more First Tee curriculum into our school systems. It's not easy for all the families to come see us. We need to go to them.
The school programs are our next step."
No organization such as The First Tee can exist, much less excel, without numerous willing volunteers. Baker counts himself blessed in that respect.
"We're getting some great help from volunteers such as Tony Baker and Charlain Hirst, both golf professionals here," he said. "We're starting to figure things out and everybody is being very supportive, doing everything they can to help us."
The First Tee is currently operating seven classes with a maximum of 25 kids per class.
"Twenty-five is about all we can handle," Baker said. "More than that and it's difficult."
The First Tee holds a couple of events to raise funds each year, including the Walmart First Tee Open and an auction.
"This tournament accounts for almost half of our annual budget," Baker said. "I can't thank our board of directors or the staff at the CCNC enough for the job they've done."
While no one seemed to care a lot about the winning teams, there were several. The Gross Division was won by the foursome of Pat McGowan, Ralph Ronalter, Bucky Adams and John Romaine with a score of 66.
The net division champions were Chad Gilbreath, Bryan Heath, Terry McKnight and Mark Harrison, who posted 57.
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