First Tee helps SF kids with golf, fitness

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

SFUSD Supervisor Richard Carranza prepares to hit a long drive as
Lawton Alternative School fifth graders watch during a "First Tee"
golf class at TPC Harding Park on Friday, February 15, 2013 in
San Francisco, Calif. Carranza was there to congratulate the students
on completing the "First Tee" golf program.
Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle
San Francisco schools Superintendent Richard Carranza never stood a chance.

He teed up the golf ball at TPC Harding Park golf range and hit the ball Friday morning about 75 yards.
Then his competitor stepped up to the tee, took a few practice swings and let it fly, the ball soaring a good 100 yards and rolling for more.

The clear winner: 10-year-old Mackenzie Manalo.

The petite Lawton Elementary School fifth-grader didn't brag or tease the superintendent. She humbly shook his hand and smiled shyly.

After all, golf is about good manners, integrity and courtesy, personal skills she learned during her school's physical education class with the city's First Tee program, a four-week, eight-lesson course at Harding Park to introduce city students to golf and the life lessons that come with the game.

While Mackenzie was a bit of a ringer - she had some experience already with the game - most of the 8,000 city students who will participate in First Tee this year have never picked up a club or been to a golf course. And Tiger Woods sounded more like a scary wilderness area.

But the program, which is in all 50 states and four countries, isn't just about teaching kids to make a birdie or sink a putt.

It exposes them to an activity otherwise associated with hobnobbing businessmen in bad pants, offering access to the sport and life lessons in honesty, patience and personal responsibility, said Bo Links, board member for First Tee in San Francisco.

Golf's mantra is "replace your divot, rake your footprints and repair ball marks," he said.
"The message is simple: Leave the world better than you found it," Links added. "And be polite and respectful while you're doing it."

The First Tee international program started in 1997 and is in its 10th year in San Francisco, growing from a few hundred students participating to several thousand.

First Tee is in 48 city schools, focusing on fifth-graders either at a golf course or in school, with their teachers trained to incorporate golf into gym class.

San Francisco First Tee, a nonprofit that provides coaches, teacher training and equipment, currently uses Harding and a practice facility at Visitacion Valley Middle School.

Organizers hope to expand to a third location at the nine-hole course at Golden Gate Park, which would require city approval.

Carranza attended the last of Lawton Elementary's on-site sessions Friday, although the students will continue the program at school through the rest of the academic year. After-school and summer classes are also available so students can keep playing.

"We're getting kids out in the fresh air," he said. "Talk about the city as the classroom."

Carranza toured the chipping and putting stations set up for the students, who laughed as they fetched the occasional wild shot.

While some gym classes give an edge to physically fit or coordinated classmates, golf plays no favorites, Links noted.

"You don't have to be big, you don't have to be strong, you don't have to be fast," he said. "It's a great equalizer."

Mackenzie and Carranza already knew that.