What the Fox Ridge Golf Club is doing for the summer is the part of the First Tee of Maine program which many people know about.
Head pro Bob Darling and his assistant pro Matt Wing have taken over the First Tee program there and are running it this summer like many of the best First Tee programs throughout the state and the nation.  The two-hour sessions at Fox Ridge are conducted several days a week, with 35 children having signed up and about 25 per day in attendance, because some families are away on vacation.
Rob Bibeau, the First Tee of Maine executive director, knows that Darling’s background of expertise will benefit the youngsters as players, but as he put it:  “Bob brings a difference perspective because of his knowledge and experience.”
That “Darling experience” includes being named Maine PGA Chapter player of the year 15 times, four Maine State Open championships, eight Maine PGA chapter championships and the 1987 Bermuda Masters title. Also he has been the low Maine pro in the Maine Open seven times, had four top fives in the New England Open, seven top 10s in the New England PGA, and played in three PGA Tour events.  
What First Tee wants is to provide a great golf experience for all of its participants, but more importantly the organization wants the youngsters to be exposed to its “nine core values,”  which consist of integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment. An emphasis is on the exposure to golf, but more importantly it is about learning to play the game of life — and well.
 The life goals obviously are valuable, but how does Darling, whose club is celebrating its 12th anniversary this weekend, blend that with teaching golf skills?
“Most of the kids showed up with golf clubs,” he said,  “which enabled us to set up stations for chipping, putting and full swing. We try to maintain their interest, but we want them to have fun.”
Although Fox Ridge has completed its second week,  youngsters still can sign up for the remainder of the program. The entire summer session is $80 per person, but as Bibeau said: “We do not turn away any kids for financial reasons.”
Fox Ridge is one of nine summer programs First Tee is overseeing.  The others are: Bangor Municipal, South Portland Municipal, Riverside, Val Halla, Penobscot Valley, Wilson Lake, Dunegrass and Barnes Brook.
What people may not know about First Tee of Maine is that it operates programs in two middle schools and 37 elementary schools in what is called the national school program conducted during the school year.  Bibeau expects that the overall program will touch approximately 15,000 Maine youngsters in 2013.  
In the Auburn-Lewiston area, there are programs at St. Dominic’s, Sherwood Heights and Martell schools. Since the schools do not have golf courses, nor in many cases open areas, physical education teachers often run the golf programs indoors and use what is known as SNAG (Starting New At Golf) equipment, which is plastic clubs and nerf balls.
In addition to the schools, indoor First Tee golf is run at facilities of recreations departments, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, Murphy Homes, Camp Sunshine, Central Maine Adaptive Sports and Big Brother/Big Sister — to name a few. They are known by First Tee as allied youth organizations and outreach feeders.
If it sounds like First Tee of Maine is active, and that it requires a great deal of financial support, it does. Bibeau estimates that his budget for 2013 is $180,000, which is financed through personal contributions and fund-raising activities which include the May 18 Ball Drop at Nonesuch River, the June 10 Invitational at The Woodlands, Seaport Credit Union Junior Classic July 16 at Riverside, Lin Bell Golf for Kids at Falmouth Aug. 19 and the LPGA Legends Golf Tournament Sept. 12-15 at Falmouth. In addition, Bibeau is attempting to organize a black tie dinner later this year.\
It all adds up to an ambitious daily and special events schedule for Bibeau, who is in his second full season as executive director. Fortunately for him, as former head pro at Riverside, he has tremendous credibility in the State of Maine.  He is receiving support and assistance from many of the state’s greatest golf figures, including Maine State Golf Association executive director, Nancy Storey,  Brian Bickford, head pro at Val Halla, and Darling, one of Maine’s most revered golf pros.
 

Noteworthy
 
After a schedule of tournaments every day last week, the Maine State Golf Association does have a day off this week.  Nothing is on the calendar for Thursday.  Today the MSGA completes its County Tour (Aroostook) with a tournament at Presque Isle. Monday it is a senior and junior tour event at Fairlawn, followed by a junior tournament Tuesday at Martindale and a third junior competition Wednesday at Clinton. Then there are the regular Friday-Saturday tournaments, this week at Sunday River… The Maine Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame will conduct its 14th annual golf tournament, a scramble on July 8 at Belgrade Lakes Golf Club. Information is available by telephoning Marty Ryan at 646-7352 or online at [email protected]  … Fairlawn players Jack Manning and Frank Papineau were in the member-guest tournament of The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., Wednesday and received a preview of what that course will be like Aug. 12-18 when it is the site of the U.S. Golf Association U.S. Amateur Championship. They reported that the rough will be like it was for the U.S. Open at Merion, and there will be a 625-yard par-5 hole, along with a 500-yard par-4 hole.  All this and more — for amateurs … Give the professional staff and 14 volunteer members at Oakdale a lot of credit for putting their club in a position to conduct this past Friday and Saturday’s MSGA tournament there, after last Tuesday’s rainstorm washed all kinds of debris onto the course.  


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