For better or for worse, golf and I go way back.
When I was a kid growing up in upstate New York, with only a loose grasp of how to play the game, my father, an avid golfer who at the time worked for a bank, would shuttle me to company-sponsored tournaments, mostly to perform hard labor or work as an announcer.
Now that he’s retired, my job is shuttling him around in the cart from hole to hole. This can be a precarious endeavor as he whipsaws between two moods: enthused by a solid swing or irked by an errant shot, which invariably causes him to declare that I’m driving too slowly as he leaps out of the cart while it is still in motion.
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So it was with some trepidation that I picked up a club earlier this month at Providence’s Button Hole golf course. To my relief, the temperament of the players at the driving range — many of whom appeared no older than 12 — was in check.
While the course is open to anyone, the children there are part of the course’s instructional programming, which welcomes students from an array of places, including Providence public schools, Boys & Girls Clubs and other city organizations. These aren’t kids who necessarily bring their own clubs. Most are on school lunch programs and scholarships provided by Button Hole so that they can participate.
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It’s not just about teaching skills. An even temper is part of the learning process. It’s what executive director Don Wright calls “life lessons.”
“Other sports have referees and judges and all of that,” he said. “[In golf,] you’re on your own. You call penalties on yourself, you have to count all your shots, and you have to deal with the frustration. You’re not going to hit all good shots, and it’s your ability to overcome the bad shots.”
More than two decades ago, these rolling fields of trimmed green were nothing more than an abandoned gravel pit commonly used as a dump site.
That was until founder and accomplished golfer Ed Mauro decided to open a course with a community-oriented vision and a mission of teaching kids the game.
“Some kids take to it really quickly, and some, with that extra attention, really take to it, and find out that a ball and a stick is a fun thing to do,” said Wright. His passion for the game was sparked while growing up in Maryland, where he mowed lawns to collect enough money to play a round.
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After talking about the game with Wright, it was time for me to take a swing. On what was more or less my first proper attempt, I learned there’s a lot to keep in mind, so I formulated my mental checklist and gradually ticked off the boxes as I readied myself to hit. Gripping the club with thumbs aligned, a slight bend at the hips, feet shoulder width apart, and an eye on the ball, I swung, and missed.
In my defense, I was working on four hours of sleep after covering an 18-hour standoff the night before, the end of which only arrived an hour before my lesson.
Nevertheless, my whiff brought out a much-needed laugh.
A couple of shots later, I managed to hit the ball a meager distance. That time, I didn’t laugh. You grinned.
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Wright has seen kids on the course do the same.
“When you see them kind of strike their first reasonable shot, the smile that comes across their face, you know you have them hooked,” he said.
I know the feeling.
Providence Journal staff writer Amy Russo, a transplanted New Yorker, is looking for new ways to experience her adopted state. If you have suggestions for this column, email her at email@example.com.
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