It Takes a World Golf Village to Raise a Child


I took a putting lesson the other day. The pro, John OLeary III of the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy, says theres hope. But thats not what I want to talk about today.
OLeary, a good teacher and a friendly guy, has seen a lot in golf. Hes taught, what, hundreds of golfers? At least that many. But what stuck with him from a recent class was a kid, maybe eight years old, who never forgot to say please, thank you, and all the related phrases. And not sullenly, either. This kid had real manners.
Its true; Ive seen this phenomenon. A certain advertising executive from a major golf equipment company visited our studios during the PGA Merchandise Show. She had brought her family along, so they could all enjoy Orlando while she worked the show. She plays golf, her husband plays, and the kids are getting interested. When she introduced me to her eight-year-old son, it went this way:
Hi, Eric; how are you?
Hello, Mr. Barr. Pleasure to meet you. Thanks for inviting us. And he confidently stuck out his hand for me to shake.
Poor kid must have wondered why I stood there with my jaw hanging open. I simply dont encounter those kinds of manners very often, especially at that age. Ill bet Eric is good in school and reasonably well-behaved at home too.
Ill be the first to warn that we shouldnt generalize about any generation. Floppy pants, jewelry that requires piercing, and bad attitudes are hardly widespread among the younger set, no matter how it may seem some days. And not all floppy pantsers or piercers arewell, you get the idea.
But one thing I know for sure: Jerky kids are an infinitesimal minority among kids who play golf. As a new father (so happens OLeary is too), I find this particularly interesting.
This all brings to mind the First Tees overt desire to do much more than bring golf into the lives of kids who might not otherwise have a chance to play. At its national conference last November, the First Tee promised to do no less than, as its organizer put it, start Coloring Lives. First Tee participants would be started on the path of good citizenship through this most marvelous and challenging of games.
The reporters in the crowd were skeptical. Im a big fan of Joe Louis Barrow, Jr., the First Tees highly capable executive director. But even I had my doubts about the lofty goals, event though I wished the First Tee every success.
Im still a little concerned. At best, the First Tee can only start the process. The rest of the job ' and perhaps the most laborious portion ' must be shouldered by the families. And thats because no one else can instill those values at the times when kids are most receptive. Charity isnt the only thing that begins at home. Im willing to bet the two eight-year-olds described above had the benefit of good parental examples.
So I hope my boy likes to play golf, or some sport. I hope yours ' son, daughter, nephew, niece or grandchild ' does too.