Introducing N. Alabama kids to the game
HUNTSVILLE – Howard Bankhead believes that in a perfect world, every child in Madison, Morgan and Jackson counties would have the opportunity to experience the joy of golf.
He’s been trying to make that happen for the past 20-plus years. It started with the Tennessee Valley Youth Golf Program and continued with the First Tee of Huntsville.
More recently, Bankhead has been an integral part of the Par Excellence Youth Development initiative that is going into area schools and exposing children to golf.
The inspiration for Bankhead, who turned to golf when balky knees ended his tennis playing days, was to expose children to something they might not otherwise have an opportunity to experience.
“I wanted kids to have opportunities that I didn’t have growing up,” he said. “That was my inspiration for creating the program.”
The mission statement for PEYD, which was formed in 2016, is simple, yet all-encompassing:
“To positively influence the lives of youth by providing educational programs, that encourage fitness, character and academics.”
Crafting after-school, summer golf programs
PEYD has a six-member board of directors, with Bankhead holding the title of community manager. Bankhead, who this past spring was inducted into the African American Golf Hall of Fame, is the face of the organization and the guy who is on the front line with the kids – whether it is showing them the proper way to grip a club or teaching how math skills are relevant to the game.
“We teach them grip, stance and alignment,” Bankhead said. “That’s every day. But the first thing we do is talk about safety. Safety first. The second thing is to have fun. And third, it’s to do your best. I want them to build a work ethic, not only in golf but in their school work too. Golf teaches so many lessons.”
PEYD offers after-school programs, summer golf programs and drive, chip and putt lessons. Its golf curriculum helps children prepare for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields.
Taylor Byrd Jr., a longtime educator, is the chairman of the board of directors of PEYD. He said it is amazing to see the children’s joy when they’re learning about the game.
“It’s exciting to see those kids participating in this young development program,” he said. “Those kids – black and white – have a lot of fun. They get so excited when we are around them and they get the ball in the air for the first time. The challenge, of course, is to raise money for the program and to keep the kids involved when they are not in school.”
In addition to Byrd, PEYD’s other board members are Reggi Clark (event chairman), James O. Bearden Jr. (vice chairman), Kevin Hathaway (secretary) and LeRoy Gradford Jr. (treasurer).
Easy-going Howard Bankhead puts kids at ease
Mike Sparks has known Howard Bankhead for more than 30 years and frequently accompanies him to photograph PEYD events. He notes that Bankhead’s easy-going personality puts the children at ease.
“He’s a golfer; he loves the game and he loves children,” Sparks said. “That must be why he elected to teach golf. Children need a little direction and Howard is always smiling and laughing. I’m sure the children see that.”
Before he even hit his first golf shot, Bankhead was actively helping the area’s youth. An active member of the Tennessee Valley Jazz Society. Bankhead was instrumental in forming the “Jazz Education is Cool in Schools” program. More than 38,000 children have taken advantage of that since 1998.
The lessons he now teaches youngsters are the same that he learned when he first began playing at age 44.
“A friend of mine – Andre Harris – said we ought to try golf,” Bankhead recalled. “We went out and he showed me how to hold the club. Being an athlete, I was able to catch on pretty fast.”
Once he caught the golf bug, he decided it was a good alternative to other sports for children. That sent him down the path of trying to turn children onto golf. With his early initiatives, Bankhead was grateful for local professionals such as Steve Mack and Billy Eastep for providing their time and instruction.
Hoping for a headquarters facility some day
With PEYD firmly entrenched in the community, Bankhead dreams of having a standalone facility with a practice area that will serve as the organization’s de facto headquarters. He even has a site picked out – part of the green space that formerly was the site of Becky Peirce Municipal Golf Course in south Huntsville.
“That’s the ideal place for it,” Bankhead said. “If we can get the land, then we can get the funding and bring the whole thing there.”
Because of his work with youths through golf, Howard Bankhead was inducted in May into the African American Golf Hall of Fame in West Palm Beach, Florida. The hall of fame was established to celebrate and honor the history and achievements of African Americans in golf.
Bankhead said he was honored by his induction.
“My motto was, ‘Give youth a gift for life – Youth Golf Development,’ ” Bankhead told the publication HBCU Legends. “I was first shocked when I received the message of the nomination; after I was chosen, I was honored and still am. Helping young people to develop as a whole, includingacademically(reading, math STEM), athletically(fitness -golf), and spiritually(life skills and character), is a blessing.”
An Alabama State graduate with a degree in marketing and management, Bankhead hopes to see PEYD expand beyond its current base.
When asked if every program needs someone like Bankhead, Byrd had a simple answer.
“You spoke the gospel there,” he said. “You have to have somebody who is passionate. He loves it.”
For more information about Par Excellence Youth Development visit peyd.org.
Featured image of a PEYD golf student by Gregg Dewalt