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Prose and Kohn

Waterlefe Youth Golf Program gives kids a love of the game

The program covers costs for underserved and minority kids, giving them an experience they otherwise might not get.

Alonzo Rhodes, Anthony Segui-Pourel, Tamia Munnings, Jadie Raymond, Issac Amir Boyce and Elijah Quintana-Gratacos played in the Waterlefe clinic.
Alonzo Rhodes, Anthony Segui-Pourel, Tamia Munnings, Jadie Raymond, Issac Amir Boyce and Elijah Quintana-Gratacos played in the Waterlefe clinic.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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The promise of ice cream always raises the stakes. 

Alonzo Rhodes, 7, was having some trouble with his driver. Rhodes was participating in a Waterlefe Youth Golf Program clinic, held March 26 at Waterlefe Golf and River Club. His driver was hitting the grass well short of the ball, which sat atop a tee at the course's first hole.

It was then his family made the 7-year-old a promise. Focus and hit the ball, and he would get some ice cream on the way home. The boy's eyes lit up. 

After receiving a few pointers from Waterlefe PGA Professional Matt Primrose, Rhodes took another swing. He smashed the ball down the middle of the fairway.

A wide smile flashed across his face as he turned to look at his family. The promised ice cream was a part of that smile — but taking pride in his shot was, too. 

Alonzo Rhodes sets his feet before hitting his driver at the Waterlefe Youth Golf Program clinic.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

These types of experiences are not rare at the non-profit organization's events. The program began approximately two years ago, spearheaded by club member Bob Buchanan, with a mission of introducing the sport of golf to underserved and minority youth in Manatee County. In Buchanan's eyes, that was something the community needed. 

The program covers lesson costs for underserved and minority youth interested in joining, and will provide them with a polo shirt emblazoned with the program's logo as well as loan them a set of golf clubs once they prove they are serious about trying the sport.

It will also cover the costs of the players joining the PGA Junior League once they are ready for that level of competition. Buchanan said the annual cost comes out to approximately $1,500 to $2,000 per golfer, which gets covered by private donations as well as things like silent auctions. In April, the organization will be the LECOM Suncoast Classic's featured charity. For each birdie on the 18th hole on all four days of competition combined, the organization will get $50. 

Buchanan said saving families from spending thousands on golf — a barrier to entry for many — is a great feeling, and the organization has enough financial support to cover the costs of more underserved golfers, which it would like to do. 

"I've had people say, 'Why would you teach kids to play golf when they won't be able to afford it (afterwards)?'" Buchanan said. "We want to give them a great experience. For some of them, it will just be that experience, and in 10 years they'll remember it and how they had fun. For others, they might get into business and play golf with their partners.

"If we can create one high school golfer or see one kid get into college (because of golf), that would be wonderful, but it's about experiencing the game. If nobody in your family or your neighborhood teaches you to play, how do you experience it? That's what we're trying to establish."

While golf is seen by some as a stuffy sport, Primrose and volunteer coach Denny Meskill puts an emphasis on fun. On March 26, Primrose broke the kids into teams and had them play putting games against each other. At other sessions, Primrose has filled dozens of water balloons and had the kids hit them in a long-drive competition — they did not go far, Primrose said, and a lot of them popped, but that was expected. By the end of it, everyone was soaked, Primrose included. 

It's not all silliness. The program teaches serious golf, too. After playing a putting game March 26, the kids went on the course and played scramble-style on the No. 1 hole, using the best drive of the group to advance toward the green and then the best next shot, and so on. As a group, the kids finished the hole in six shots — not bad for beginners. While the kids play, the instructors teach them to respect each other and the course. They enforce the rules, too, with no hitting off a tee after the first shot of a hole, even if that creates more of a challenge for some golfers. 

Tamia Munnings calms herself before a putting game.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

After the lesson, 12-year-old Tamia Munnings — who was one of the program's first enrollees, stemming from a trial lesson Buchanan and Primrose conducted at Bradenton's 13th Avenue Dream Center — said her favorite memory from her time in it is receiving a golden badge for her driving ability. Munnings is quiet, but in talking about her prized badge, her voice strengthens. 

"It felt great to get it, because it (driving the ball) isn't easy," Munnings said. "It made me happy."

All the golfers agreed that getting onto the club's actual course — which the program started doing three months ago, according to Buchanan — was a game-changer for them. They hadn't realized the sheer size of a golf course, or how playing in such an environment could boost their enjoyment of the game. 

Now, they are starting to get it. They know to look for the flag before they aim their driver. They know to avoid sand traps. If a divot of grass comes up when they drive the ball, they tamp it down as best they can. They act like golfers. 

They're also having fun and making memories, and that's exactly what Buchanan and his organization hope to achieve for more kids who otherwise would not. 

Though the program only covers costs for families that need it, any young golfers with a set of clubs can sign up for the program. Lessons with Primrose are $20 per student per session. Anyone interested can register for a lesson via the organization's Golf Genius page. The program's next lesson is April 16th at 3 p.m. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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