Program introduced at Florence school
FLORENCE – The squeals of joy and a plethora of giggles filled the new gym at Mars Hill Bible School early Wednesday morning.
The source of the laughter was easy to pinpoint – a couple of kindergarten classes getting their initiation into golf through S.N.A.G. (Starting New At Golf), a program being introduced into area schools throughhe Chris and Patricia Burns Junior Golf Foundation.
Using plastic clubs and tennis-balls, kids formed groups and took turns aiming at and trying to hit targets under the watchful eyes of instructors such as Les Holcombe, Daniel Creel, Tim King, Lee Fowler and others.
The goal of the new foundation, according to Fowler, is to honor the work of Burns, the now-retired head professional at Florence Country Club, with S.N.A.G. being the vessel to get kids hooked on golf.
S.N.A.G. honors Chris Burns’s work with kids
Developing junior golfers was a staple of Burns’s 40-plus years as the head pro at Florence Country Club. Many amateur golfers in and around the Shoals got their start at one of Burns’ summer clinics at FCC, which nearly always totaled 100 or more junior golfers. Burns instructed numerous successful junior golfers, including PGA Tour professional Stewart Cink and Chad Parker, who is now the president and general manager at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
“The whole purpose is to break down the barrier of cost and access for kids to learn how to play golf,” said Fowler, who grew up attending Burns’ clinics. “If you aren’t paying attention to it, there’s no place for kids to go to learn how to play golf. There are some summer clinics that pop up, and if you have a lot of money you can go take private lessons.”
Once S.N.A.G. gets kids hooked on golf in elementary school P.E. classes, the hope is that they will pursue the sport further.
More than a physical game
Fowler said to be good at golf, a player doesn’t have to be a tremendous athlete.
“It’s such a good game because it teaches you so many lessons,” Fowler said, “You don’t have to be a star athlete to be good in golf. It gives a lot of semi-athletic kids something they can be really good at.”
Fowler hopes to have S.N.A.G. in every elementary school P.E. curriculum in Lauderdale and Colbert counties.
. To date, the Chris and Patricia Burns Junior Golf Foundation, which started with a $25,000 donation, has raised enough money to purchase equipment for six schools. An April golf tournament at Turtle Point Yacht and Country Club in Killen will add to their funds. All money raised goes into S.N.A.G. programs.
Burns said he his honored to be a part of the initiative to return junior golf to the forefront in the area.
“I’m not so happy for me, but for the kids who are going to benefit from this,” he said. “That’s what is really important. Golf is such a great sport. Hopefully, it will get kids involved in golf who might not otherwise have had a chance. When I was growing up, I had to learn how to play along a dirt road until I was about 12. The game has helped me go a lot of places. I hope the community will embrace it.”
If the inaugural classes at Mars Hill Bible School are any indication, S.N.A.G. appears as if it will be a success. Kids had a good time and seemed to enjoy the challenge of hitting targets.
“Ultimately it is about the kids,” Mars Hill Assistant Principal Matt Burgess said. “That’s what the Chris and Patricia Burns Foundation is all about. It’s about getting young kids involved in golf so it will stick with them longer. We hope all the schools embrace it. When Lee reached out and asked if Mars Hill would be interested in it, we said we would love it. If the kids do the same thing in P.E. everyday, they get tired of it. This is something different and they get excited.”
Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News
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All photos by Gregg Dewalt