The Maine Golf Foundation was formed last year with the purpose of promoting golf and also putting all the golf organizations in the state under one roof at the Golf House at Val Halla in Cumberland, where the Maine State Golf Association headquarters is located.

It also took over The First Tee of Maine program, which is part of the national program, with the goal of creating new programs throughout the state with the help of golf pros and recreation directors.

Dave Cross of Farmingdale is the new executive director of the MGF. He has a strong background working for non-profits. Brian Bickford, director of golf at Val Halla and the recreation director for Cumberland, is the new program director for First Tee of Maine.

Bickford started a First Tee program at Val Halla. Riverside Golf Course has also had one for the last few years and that will continue with Phil Gignac as program manager.

For this summer, First Tee will concentrate on programs at Val Halla and Riverside. After that, it will look to expand.

“We’re phasing in Val Halla and looking to reinvigorate the Riverside program,” said Bickford.

The First Tee is for boys and girls ages 5 through 17. There are different levels of ability and kids begin at levels they’re comfortable with and work their way up. Clubs are provided at the sessions for children who don’t have them.

“First Tee is a life skills program through the game of golf,” said Bickford.

The program weaves in nine core values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect. confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

“Golf lends itself to those ideals better than any other sport. You’re the player and the referee in one,” said Bickford.

Bickford said most kids feel they’re there to learn golf, which they are, but before the golf activity, there’s a core value to be focused on.

“It could be as simple as learning how to give a firm handshake and looking in the person’s eye. The homework assignment might be greeting an adult with a handshake and introduction. We have a 15-minute focus group and then we move on to golf,” said Bickford.

Eventually, Bickford sees First Tee programs expanding around the state. The MGF wants to make it easier to start programs by helping with administration and coordinating with courses and rec programs.

Cross said the MGF’s mission statement “is to promote golf in Maine by focusing on the positive qualities you can get from golf.”

“We’re gaining a lot of momentum,” said Cross. “We moved the chapter to Val Halla. There’s a lot going on.”

With the average age of golfers increasing, the golf industry needs an influx of younger golfers to keep the game strong for the rest of the 21st century. Who is going to replace the baby boomers on all these courses built in the last 20 years when the boomers are no longer around? Young golfers are the ones who will play the courses and buy the equipment for years to come. Unlike the majority of sports, golf is something you can play your entire life. While golf can be an impossible game to master — no one ever does — it’s a game that can be more enjoyable if one learns it young. It’s a great social game and you can be as serious about it as you want.

“We want to introduce golf to young people with the hope they take a shine to it and continue to play,” said Bickford.

To become a certified First Tee instructor, Bickford had to attend a clinic. There were several locations around the country where he could have been sent. Two weeks ago, Bickford and other instructors taught 45 children in the Bronx. N.Y.

At both Val Halla and Riverside, there will be separate instruction for girls, called “Meghan’s Camps.” Bickford’s daughter, Meghan, who will attend Methodist College in Fayetteville, N.C., will be head instructor and have help from other girls on the Greely High School team.

“It will give the girls’ program a boost,” said Bickford.

For more information, go to www.thefirstteemaine.org.

 

TEE TO GREEN: Jim McDonald, who grew up in Gorham and served as head pro at Waterville in 1996-97, will be honored Thursday by the Tee Party of Western Massachusetts for his contributions to golf in the Pioneer Valley. McDonald, 52, is an assistant pro at Crumpin-Fox Golf Club in Bernardston, Mass. A tournament and banquet will be held at the Country Club of Greenfield. McDonald began his career at the Purpoodock Club in 1981-82. He spent one season at Biddeford-Saco before going to the Taconic Club in Williamstown, Mass., for the first of two stints working for former Gorham pro Rick Pohle. After time at another Western Mass., course, McDonald came to Waterville. He has been at Crumpin-Fox since 2005.

Mark Fogg and Shawn Warren teamed to win the Maine Chapter NEPGA Senior-Junior Championship last week at Nonesuch River in Scarborough. They combined for a 9-under par 61. Peter Matthews and Don Roberts finished second with a 64.

Falmouth and Greely high schools have been reclassified from Class B to Class A in golf and will join the SMAA for golf only this fall. That will give the SMAA six teams each in three divisions — central, north and south. Falmouth will be in the central division while Greely will be in the north.

The deadline to enter the MSGA’s annual team championship is Wednesday. If the field isn’t full, the deadline will be extended. The first MSGA scholarship tournament is at Belgrade Lakes in Belgrade on May 31. Entry fee is $100, which includes a cart.

There will be a fundraising tournament next Sunday at Val Halla — the Miss Maine USA Golf Classic — for Miss Maine/USA Ashley Marble to help her defray expenses to the Miss USA Pagent in Las Vegas. A portion of the proceeds will go to Maine Special Olympics. The cost is $85 per person. The tournament will be a shotgun start at 2 p.m. Golfers can register online at www.ashleymarble.com.

 

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

[email protected]