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The First Tee Opens New World to Carrier Clinic Patients August 21, 2018 By Jordan Schwartz, USGA

Carrier Clinic patients participated in The First Tee of Raritan Valley camp at Fiddler's Elbow Country Club. (Jordan Schwartz/USGA)

Clay Merchent playing his tee shot at the 11th hole during the first round of stroke play of the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)
Clay Merchent playing his tee shot at the 11th hole during the first round of stroke play of the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)
Clay Merchent playing his tee shot at the 11th hole during the first round of stroke play of the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)

Gary’s 20-foot putt rolled into the front middle section of the tic-tac-toe board pinned to the practice green at Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club in Bedminster, N.J.

“Were you going for that one?” asked the instructor from The First Tee of Raritan Valley.

The 15-year-old could have lied. He had been struggling to hit a box for 10 minutes and the teacher hadn’t heard him call “middle, middle.” But Gary told the truth and the ball was removed from the board.

Maybe it was due to the story about Bob Jones calling a penalty on himself that First Tee board member Janice Marano told the group prior to the day’s lesson.

Or maybe it was because Gary comes from a military family and plans on enlisting in the Marine Corps when he turns 17.

Either way, the action was a perfect example of honesty, one of The First Tee’s nine core values and something the three-day camp was designed to teach participants from Carrier Clinic, a behavioral and substance abuse healthcare facility in Belle Mead, N.J.

This was the seventh year Marano, who also serves on the Clinic’s fundraising committee, organized the program.

“They leave with a good sense of who they are and a good sense of respect for each other,” she said. “They learn a lot.”

For 17-year-old Alex, the experience taught him patience.

The First Tee of Raritan Valley board member Janice Marano gives a Carrier Clinic patient putting tips. (Jordan Schwartz/USGA)

“It takes time to learn everything. That’s what I’m taking away from these golf lessons,” he said. “Not everything happens in the blink of an eye. You have to take deep breaths and let it go at its own pace.”

Alex spent all of 2017 at Carrier Clinic before returning this past May, but he’s due to leave on Sept. 4 and is looking forward to starting his senior year of high school. He’s a running back on the football team but the camp really sparked his interest in golf.

Alex was paired with a volunteer from the USGA during the tic-tac-toe game and he let her go first. (Courtesy is also among The First Tee’s core values.) Meanwhile, Marano worked with Alex on using his shoulders more while putting.

“Thank you, Miss Janice!” he called out after landing a ball on the board.

Before arriving at Fiddler’s Elbow, Alex’s only knowledge of golf came from watching the movie Happy Gilmore. For many of these teenagers, this program is their first introduction to the game.

“Being from the inner-city, they’ve never been exposed to golf,” said Carrier Clinic crisis specialist Leslie Marsh. “The kids that come here really enjoy the experience. Alex and Gary talked about the great time they had yesterday and were looking forward to coming back today.”

Marano credits Fiddler's Elbow for its genorisity in making the facilities available. 

"They let me do what I want here," she said. "I couldn't do it without their kindness."

The First Tee, which was founded by the USGA, LPGA, Masters Tournament, PGA of America and PGA Tour, sets out to grow the game by changing the experience kids have with it.

“I love working with children and making an impact on their lives through the game of golf and giving them access to it,” said Mary Kate Lynch, program director at The First Tee of Raritan Valley. “Many of these kids haven’t seen a golf course before in their life.”

With the participants continuing to miss the tic-tac-toe board, the camp’s instructor asked if they wanted to move closer to the target.

“No,” replied Malcolm, a 17-year-old with his sights set on technical school. “We like the challenge.”

Perseverance is another one of those nine core values.

Eventually, the group made its way over to the practice range. After about 15 minutes learning the proper stance while hitting irons, the coach handed them drivers.

“I like that!” Gary exclaimed after blasting one of his first shots. But after a few swings and misses, he came to the same realization everyone who has ever picked up a club has had: “Golf is hard.”

He’s not lying.

Jordan Schwartz is the creative and content lead for the USGA Foundation. Email him at jschwartz@usga.org.