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NORTON, MA — There was nothing but smiles seen at The Links At Mass Golf on Monday morning as Mass Golf was presented with two $5,000 checks by eight volunteer members of the organization Birdies 4 A Change, one supporting Youth On Course and the other First Tee Massachusetts.
Using the proceeds from the Birdies 4 A Change Golf Tournament, which took place last month at Acushnet River Golf Club, Birdies 4 A Change made one of the largest single contributions to Youth On Course since it was introduced to Massachusetts in 2019. The Youth On Course donation will be added to the proceeds from Mass Golf’s 100 Hole Hike, which took place Monday at The Links At Mass Golf. Monday contribution alone will support 1,000 rounds of golf for members of Youth On Course.
“They’re an incredible group of people who love to play the game and love to support the game,” said Jesse Menachem, Executive Director/CEO of Mass Golf. “They called us initially saying we’d love to partner up and figure out ways to support the future of the game, the next generation, kids in inner cities, and ultimately provide access and golf clubs. It’s a great kickoff to a relationship that we hope to be long-term.”
Youth On Course is a nationwide program offered by Mass Golf that allows youth members ages 6-18 to play 18 holes of golf for $5 per round. First Tee Massachusetts offers affordable junior golf programs that teach both the game and its core values and life lessons at seven on-course locations across the state.
With the value that both programs provide, Canute said he was enthusiastic to support these organizations affiliated with Mass Golf.
“From the beginning, our whole goal with Birdies 4 A Change was to give money back,” said Jay Caunte, president of Birdies 4 A Change. “Fortunately for us now, we have the ability to golf, pay for nice clubs, and play really nice courses. A lot of kids don’t have that. That was the whole goal, and we were very happy to be able to partner with Mass Golf where we were able to give money and to know it’s directly going to a good cause.”
On its website, Birdies 4 A Change states its mission as: “Empower, develop, and positively impact the lives and perspectives of under-served youth through education and focused mentoring, while using golf as the driving mechanism to enhance their growth & success, both on and off the course.”
Canute got the idea to start this organization after his father passed away 17 years ago. His father coached Pop Warner youth football for many years and was also an avid golfer. When he died, Canute said several people came up to him and mentioned how much he gave back to youth sports.
Canute and his cousins wanted to honor his father with a memorial golf tournament that was going to support Pop Warner football. But drawing from their father’s love of golf and the mission of Birdies 4 A Change, they decided to partner with Mass Golf to put on a tournament that would, in part, benefit youth golf programs in the Bay State.
“We figured it worked with Mass Golf to support Youth on Course and First Tee, things were going to go more directly toward people in our communities in Massachusetts,” Canute said.
The tournament on August 13 was a resounding success with 124 players, over 20 paid sponsorships and a silent auction that included an autographed Ricky Fowler driver and autographed hat, a Bryson DeChambeau autographed cap, as well as foursomes at The Golf Club at Turner Hill, Cummaquid Golf Club, and The Ridge Club. Many of the golfers and sponsors have recommitted to continue the tournament next year.
“I think it shows we can have an impact in our first year,” said Mark Girardin, a fellow Birdies 4 A Change member and barbershop owner. “We didn’t need to build too long to be able to get good people out to play with us and support our cause. All of our members and all of our friends like to golf, but when you have something impactful to go along with it, I think that it made it even more appealing for people to come out.”
Currently standing at 27 members, Birdies 4 A Change is represented by individuals with diverse backgrounds who have a shared love for golf and funding youth golf initiatives. Of those present Monday, Derek Fowler and Vincent Easterling have served as Boston firefighters, Derek Tavares works for the Massachusetts Port Authority, Tony Fernandes spent 21 years in the U.S. Air Force, and Shane Harris is a New Bedford Public School Resource Officer who was recently honored with the Regional Exceptional Service Award for the New England Region by the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO).
“Our big thing has been diversifying golf, so with that, we have to have a diversified group of people. We just try to get people from all different walks of life, and then show people the right way to do things.”
Added Menachem: “It’s a great model for what the game can become long term.”
Youth on Course brings affordable course access to youth golfers throughout Massachusetts. The $15 annual membership fee gives youth golfers ages 6-18 access to play at any participating course throughout the Bay State and across the country at participating locations for only $5 per round. When Juniors join Youth on Course through Mass Golf, they will also become Mass Golf members and receive a Mass Golf Membership, and a USGA GHIN Handicap.
There are about 2,200 members statewide who have played more than 4,500 rounds using the program in 2021. The number of participating locations has grown to 29 this year.
CLICK HERE to support Team Mass Golf in the 100 Hole Hike, which benefits Youth On Course.
In 2003, Mass Golf was selected by The First Tee to join its national network with the goal of bringing an affordable junior golf program to youth and communities that did not have them.
Since that time, Mass Golf has introduced seven program locations – D.W. Field Golf Course (Brockton), William J. Devine GC at Franklin Park (Boston), Hyannis Golf Course (Cape Cod), Cranberry Valley Golf Course (Harwich), Fenway Golf Center (Springfield), KOHR Golf (Natick) and The Links at Mass Golf (Norton).
As part of the curriculum, the children progress through a series of golf lessons where they are introduced to the different aspects of a golf course including the green, tee, fairway, rough, bunkers, and water hazards. The participants are also introduced to the basic elements of the game of golf and the swing including distance and accuracy control, course management, how to score, pace of play, the honor, and proper, grip, stance, and posture.
In addition to golf, the participants are introduced to the nine core values inherent to the game including honesty, integrity, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, sportsmanship, judgment, respect, and courtesy. The life skills experience was the platform used in getting the participants to become comfortable with introducing themselves to others, meeting new people, learning something new, setting goals, and dealing with conflict. The life skills learned are useful for the participants both on and off the golf course.