The First Tee opens Indoor Learning Center in Colorado Springs

December 16, 2013 Updated: December 16, 2013 at 9:10 am
photo - Young golfer Jonathan Spindor, 4, readies to try out the indoor driving range during the grand opening of The Indoor Learning Center Tuesday, December 10, 2013. The center is the home of The First Tee of Pikes Peak. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Young golfer Jonathan Spindor, 4, readies to try out the indoor driving range during the grand opening of The Indoor Learning Center Tuesday, December 10, 2013. The center is the home of The First Tee of Pikes Peak. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Madison Greene shifted her weight from left foot to right and sidled up to the tee.

"A little closer now, hon," said her father, Rick Greene, coaching from a few feet away. "Hands together. Thumbs down. Good!"

The 8-year-old swung, knocking the ball high and hard into the netting above the indoor micro driving range at The First Tee's Indoor Learning Center. A few beats later, a flat-screen monitor flashed up a digital simulation of a golf course, along with statistics.

"I got a 62!" she exclaimed, breaking into a wide smile and turning to repeat the news to her little brother. Sixty-two yards is how far her swing would have sent a ball in the real world. Among other things, the monitor shows the ball's vertical launch, backspin and an analysis of the swing, all important details for those seeking to improve their game.

The six-bay driving range is a main feature of the $450,000 golf learning center, which opened in early December in a 15,000-square-foot space at Citadel Crossing Shopping Center. The facility, which is open to the public, also features large-screen, high-tech simulation booths and a raised putting and short game area. The center serves as headquarters for the Pikes Peak Chapter of The First Tee, a national program that teaches positive life skills and values to children and teens through the game of golf.

"We want them to be successful in life, and golf teaches many of those important skills. The best way to do that is to offer a year-round program, which in Colorado Springs means having an indoor facility," said Jeff Stedman, board president and founder of the local chapter. "We decided to make it the nicest, most state-of-the-art indoor golf facility along the entire Front Range. We want that open to the entire community when we're not doing First Tee programming."

A central element of First Tee is its mission to offer lessons from pros, golf camps and practice opportunities at prices affordable to families on a budget. Multiweek sessions start at $60 and scholarships are available.

"I wouldn't have been able to play golf if not for The First Tee," said Maggie Hartman, 18, a longtime member of First Tee's Denver chapter who's now studying PGA golf management at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. "It's tough for kids who can't afford expensive fees or country club memberships. Even on a municipal course, it's expensive if you want to get good."

Rick Greene grew up five blocks from Patty Jewett Golf Course and remembers fees - 70 cents for nine holes and $35 for an annual membership - that were prohibitive to few.

"Our parents gave each of us kids $2 a day and that would pay for golf and lunch," he said. "Things are a lot different now."

Children who participate in First Tee sessions can buy a discounted $69.99 seasonal membership to the center.

Funds to built the facility - as well as $300,000 to cover the first two years' operating expenses - came from corporate, foundation and individual donations. So far, 220 children ages 5 to 18 have participated in sessions and camps, and the program has 160 unique members. During warmer months, golfers meet and practice at Valley Hi Golf Course, a First Tee partner.

Stedman was inspired to found the Colorado Springs chapter after meeting young members while playing on an amateur team at the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in California, where Champions Tour golfers partner with First Tee participants.

"The First Tee participant was always the most polished, the most courteous, and they exhibited everything you'd want to see from a young person," he said. "I wanted to be part of the group that brings this to Colorado Springs because I've seen the fruit of this - amazing young people who will do amazing things for their community and this country."

Core values that the program focuses on include honesty, perseverance and courtesy. Tim Foster has seen the positive effects on his daughter Jorryn since the 6-year-old champion putter began attending First Tee sessions regularly in June.

"She's a lot more aware of other people. Watching TV, she'll point out, 'Oh, they're not being courteous,'" said Foster, of Colorado Springs. "Her maturity has really skyrocketed."

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