Christelle Garcon breaks out into a huge smile and Matt Roop gives her a high five as her chip shot flies down the driving range at the Eagle Creek Golf & Country Club.
Christelle is one of 22 Parkside Elementary School students learning a few life lessons as they experience playing golf and tennis, have lunch and take a swim.
Roop is an assistant golf professional at Eagle Creek. He, head professional Jeff Jackson and Brad Womack, assistant golf professional, along with volunteers, have been showing the kids the many aspects of golf.
Tennis Professional Bryan Akers has been demonstrating to the kids the fine points of tennis at the Tennis Center. Two certified swim instructors also are on hand to assist 12 non-swimmers.
The three-week camp, finishing its second week today, is possible through donations made mostly by Eagle Creek members, through the leadership of Sally Lam.
“I like to see their happy faces when they make a good shot, whether it be golf or tennis,” she said. “We are giving them something they can do for the rest of their lives.”
After a short introduction on the first day, Annette Alvarez, women’s club champion, and husband Paul put on a three-hole golf demonstration.
“The goal was to give the campers the idea of how golf is played so that as they learn putting, chipping and driving they can see why they need those strokes,” Lam said.
Through monies raised, the club provides sets of junior golf clubs, with bags, the camper use. They also are provided tennis rackets.
In tennis the kids work on their forehand and backhand strokes, while also learning how to volley.
“It is amazing how quickly kids of this age can pick up the game and how excited they are when they win the point. And, of course, they keep them on the run - no couch potatoes allowed,” Lam said.
The nine core values of the First Tee program are stressed, with each new word introduced when a day begins.
Respect, courtesy, sportsmanship, integrity, confidence, honesty, judgement, responsibility and perseverance are discussed.
“They apply to golf, tennis, every day life,” Lam said. “We want these kids to have lots of fun and take away good memories. People might think this is silly to teach young kids about golf and tennis because they might not play after this.
To those I say, “How many people take piano lessons and never play.’ Some time in the future they may take up the game and they will have the basics stored away in their muscle memory.”
Womack said the program is designed with a dual purpose in mind. It introduces kids at an early age to sports, which they can play for a lifetime and at the same time teaches them life lessons.
“Many of these kids never saw a golf club before,” he said. “It exposes them to an experience they will cherish for the rest of their lives and it is free. It speaks volumes about the members of Eagle Creek as this is the age to mold kids for later in life.”
Camper Dylan Heisfon said, “Golf is a fun sport. I never played before. The camp is a great experience. I am having fun in golf and tennis. Before the camp I thought sports were boring.”
The camp was part of the Southwest Florida Golf Charities, which disbanded this spring.
Lam, who was the major fundraiser for the camp dollars that went to the Charities, plans on continuing.
“The fund-raising program is in place, it has become more of a process,” she said. “I have a notebook where the kids write thank you notes to the donors and sponsors.”
Jan Messer, Parkside principal, supports its continuance.
“The camp has broadened students’ social development, fostered good sportsmanship and offered the students a venue for a lifetime of healthy recreation,” she said.