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NORTON, Massachusetts – After a couple of hours of chipping, pitching, putting and driving, dozens of young hands shot in the air when Kyle Harris, Director of Operations, The First Tee of Massachusetts, asked the kids if they had fun.
In celebration of The Northern Trust, the first PGA TOUR playoff event of the season, which takes place at TPC Boston in Norton this week, Mass Golf and The First Tee hosted its annual Youth Golf Day — an afternoon program featuring a free skills session for local golfers from around the state — on a sunny Tuesday at The Links at Mass Golf.
Approximately 60 kids of various ages and abilities attended the free clinic overseen by First Tee volunteer coaches as well as over a dozen volunteers from the Mass Golf staff and Board Of Directors. The participants had the front nine of the course to themselves as they rotated in groups to different socially-distanced stations, collectively hitting thousands of golf balls all across the landscape.
“It was a great opportunity to celebrate golf, and it was really neat to see how many kids came out to participate,” Harris said. “We saw a lot of good golf shots and kids having fun, and that was what it was all about. It was a way for kids to get out, play together, have an opportunity to socialize a little bit, and play golf and do it in a fun and safe and encouraging environment, and I think we accomplished that today.”
Though PGA pros weren’t able to be present as in years past, their presence was still felt. For example, participants received a video message from South Hadley native, Richy Werenski, who will compete in The Northern Trust this week. Werenski, who earned his first PGA TOUR won at the Baracuda Championship last month, shared a video message from the range at TPC Boston.
WATCH: RICHY WERENSKI GIVES ADVICE TO YOUNG GOLFERS
While The Links has hosted this event for years, there was a new addition this time. The GOLFZON indoor simulators were installed at the beginning of the year, and kids participated in a long-drive contest on a virtual driving range and a closest-to-the-hole contest set up on the short par-3 7th hole at Pebble Beach.
Attleboro siblings Cooper and Drew Frietas agreed that using the simulators was their favorite part.
“It’s like real life,” Cooper said. “If you’re going to hit the ball 100 yards, it says 100 yards on the screen. It’s really, really cool.”
Olivia Dunker, who started with The First Tee in Boston within the past year said she got to do more than expected.
“I just expected to do pitching,” Dunker said. “But I was blown away with the full swing area, the virtual simulators, and the putting green. That was my favorite part.”
Parents, like Mark and Jen Pristawa, brought their kids Ella, 9, and Samuel, 7, down from South Boston to participate. Jen said she’s glad her kids have an activity like golf to participate in during the summer months.
“It’s been quite a different summer for everybody, and this is a nice change of scenery for the kids,” Jen Pristawa said. “The small group instruction with such a technical game is wonderful. It’s great for them to be exposed to everything and see what they like and learn different techniques.”
“That little piece of normalization is really valuable,” added Thomas R. Berkel, President of Mass Golf.
WATCH: SIGHTS & SOUNDS FROM YOUTH GOLF DAY
Gordon Napier, a First Tee coach from the Cranberry Valley (Harwich) was among the instructors who enjoyed seeing the kids try their best to pitch toward one of the greens.
“It gives them some good skills and gives them a chance to learn a great game,” Napier said. “Every kid’s having fun, every kid’s trying to do something well. When they do it well, you tell them that they did it well.”
And when it was all over, every kid got to walk away with pin flags from the 2018 U.S. Open, which were donated by Tournament Solutions.
“We’re extremely grateful for the generosity of The First Tee and The Northern Trust staff and our sponsors who helped make the annual Youth Golf Day a success, said Jesse Menachem, Executive Director/CEO of Mass Golf. “We also appreciate the volunteers who assisted in the efforts to once again make the event a reality.”
PGA TOUR pros Abraham Ancer, Cameron Champ, Charley Hoffman and Marc Leishman will play in THE NORTHERN TRUST Charity Challenge, a charity exhibition match scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at TPC Boston. Hoffman will play for the First Tee of Massachusetts, which is the state’s chapter of the nationwide program that teaches the game of golf and its core values to youth and annually impacts about 30,000 children statewide.
The $300,000 purse will be split among the four select tournament charities with the following breakdown: 1st place receives $125,000; 2nd place receives $75,000; 3rd place receives $50,000; 4th place receives $50,000.