April 18, 2011
For Rice freshman golfer James Hiester, the outing was surreal. The experience helped lead senior Tim Pawul to look ahead at volunteering more of his time once he graduates in a few weeks. For every member of the Rice golf team, there is no doubt each took away something from the time spent Saturday at First Tee Houston/F.M. Law Park.
Certainly the 80 or so children along with their parents who attended the clinic put on by the Owls also gained from the experience.
The First Tee provides young people of all backgrounds an opportunity to develop life-enhancing values such as confidence, perseverance and judgment through golf and character education.
The clinic was not only an opportunity to show their skills as collegiate golfers, but provided the Rice players a forum to answer questions about the sport in general, the road to becoming a collegiate golfer and balancing education with the sport.
I was really impressed at how the team handled themselves from a social standpoint," Rice coach Drew Scott said. "They took complete ownership of the entire day. They were the ones that spoke. They answered questions. Everyone contributed. It made me feel really good about how they represent Rice as well as how they represent the game of golf."
For Hiester, Saturday's clinic was a return to his roots as a golfer.
As a 10-year old, Hiester watched the Master's and told his mother that he would like to play the sport. She enrolled him into the program at F.M. Law Park and he was a participant until he was 12.
"It's where I started out playing the game," he said. "I feel like I have so much knowledge of the game now. The clinic gave me a chance to turn the table and give that knowledge back to kids who are getting their start in the sport."
"First Tee gave James a springboard to learn and grow," Scott added. "Obviously he owes a lot to First Tee of Houston because it gave him an opportunity to be introduced to the game. Look where he is today ... he is playing Division I golf. It can happen. He is one of those success stories you can point back to."
Pawul has already inquired about becoming involved with the program more after he graduates and said the whole afternoon was great.
"Golf can be such an expensive sport," Pawul said. "Seeing the program expose kids from all sorts of demographics to the sport was great.
"One thing which impressed me is you can go look at their website and read what their mission is," he added, "but it's another to see in person just how they instill the values of golf in kids. I thought that was pretty unique."
Incorporated in the First Tee Experience are nine core values - honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment. All of the players participating in the program learn of those values early on.
Rice senior Michael Whitehead added that it was refreshing to be apart of the clinic and remember what it was to be a 10-year old just wanting to have fun.
"All of us were that age at that point sometime. All of us looked up to collegiate and professional golfers," he said. "To be in the position to give back and answer some questions was a lot of fun. It's an honor and a privilege to be able to do that."
Rice returns to competition Sunday when the Owls begin play at the Conference USA Championship in Texarkana, Ark.