First Tee chips in to help students work

Not everything you do in middle school will propel you to a lifelong career, but playing golf at Visitacion Valley Middle School could win students a summer job.

Kids using the driving range and putting green installed last school year have an opportunity to learn life skills, according to Judith Powell, the executive director of the nonprofit organization First Tee. And through a $300,000 grant over the next three years, First Tee will work with the Northern California Golf Association to place students at Visitacion Valley Middle School in summer jobs.

“We want them to take what they’re learning and know they can contribute to their community,” Powell said. “They’re learning patience, courtesy and perseverance skills by practicing golf. Now we want them to use it in a job setting.”

The driving range — which is 30 yards of AstroTurf, a 60-by-25 chipping area and a 40-by-30 putting green — opened in October 2009, Visitation Valley Middle School Principal Jim Dierke said. The Professional Golf Association called it the first of its kind at an urban school.

Dierke, a sports advocate, said he agreed to open the driving range because golf is not something inner-city minority children often have the chance to play.

“These kids didn’t have any other way of getting involved with golf,” he said. “Tiger Woods is their hero.”

Now, 12 elementary schools use it for physical-education classes and golf teams.

Barry O’Driscoll, athletic director at Visitation Valley Middle School, said having the green in a minority area is important and beneficial.

“Teaching golf can be quite challenging when teaching on a blacktop,” he said. “Seeing kids spark up when we go to the green is like, ‘Wow, these kids are really into it.”

During the Schwab Cup held at Harding Park Golf Course in early November, nearly 40 Visitation Valley Middle School students were able to work inside the ropes helping carry signs for the major players.

The responsibility and importance of that event is something Powell, and Dierke, want to continue.

“They’re learning responsibility,” Powell said. “They need to know that they have to show up at work at 9 a.m. and wear this shirt. We want to give them the opportunity to learn that too.”

For his efforts in bringing the driving range to the southeast side of The City, Dierke was honored by the California Interscholastic Federation during the district’s annual Turkey Bowl on Thursday.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

On the right course

30 yards Size of AstroTurf driving range
$350,000 Cost to build
25 Visitacion Valley Middle School students on golf team
12 Elementary schools that use driving range
$300,000 Grant to provide work placement for students

Sources: San Francisco Unified School District, First Tee San Francisco

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