From high atop a hill on the putting green at Pleasant Ridge in Stowe, golfers can see a distant but clear view of the Downtown Pittsburgh skyline. If there is a future Tiger Woods in the community, that young golfer "can hang out here all the time, like this is their country club," said Paul Coultas, who oversees the course and the programs and clinics that are taught there.
This is not a full 18-hole golf course. This is a five-acre, three-hole course to practice chipping, pitching, putting and "full swing." In June, construction was completed on a club house that includes two indoor golf simulators.
It's all part of a program called The First Tee of Pittsburgh at Pleasant Ridge. The goal is to teach golf -- and more -- to children ages 5 to 18.
The program includes teaching what are called "nine core values" -- respect, judgment, confidence, responsibility, sportsmanship, courtesy, honesty, integrity and perseverance.
The First Tee is a youth development organization with programs all over the world. Locally, the program is based at The Bob O'Connor Golf Course in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park.
The mini-course in Stowe was built six years ago by the Allegheny County Housing Authority as part of what used to be known as the Ohioview Acres public housing development. It's now known as Pleasant Ridge and includes owner-occupied houses and units where the rent is on a sliding scale based on income. The county leases the course to The First Tee. The county also funded construction of the clubhouse.
The next round of six-week clinics start next month: 5:30 p.m. Thursdays, starting Oct. 10, for ages 9 and up; 11:30 a.m. Saturdays, starting Oct. 12, for 5- to 8-year-olds; and 1:30 p.m. Saturdays, starting Oct. 12, for 7- and 8-year-olds. The cost is $20 for families with an income of $40,000 or more per year, and $10 for families with incomes under $40,000. Scholarships are available for families that cannot afford the fee. Clubs, golf balls and other equipment are provided at no cost.
Children use special equipment known as SNAG for I'm Starting New At Golf. The clubs are plastic with oversized heads, and the balls are brightly colored, bigger than standard golf balls and made of fabric fastening tape so that they stick to targets.
With more lessons and practice, children move on to standard clubs and white, dimpled golf balls.
The indoor simulators allow young golfers "to play any course in the world" that is beamed onto a large white screen, Mr. Coultas said. Golfers use real clubs and balls and take real swings, firing balls at the screen. The screen registers the length the ball travels, he said.
After children and teenagers attend a clinic or two, they are part of the program and that's when they can hang out at the course as if it is their own personal country club, said Mr. Coultas, program director and site manager at Pleasant Ridge. He also coaches and teaches young golfers.
But the course is not just for First Tee participants. "It's for everyone," he said.
The First Tee is sponsored by major professional golf organizations, including the Ladies Professional Golf Association, Professional Golfers' Association of America and the United States Golf Association. Local partners that support the program include Dick's Sporting Goods, Highmark, UPMC, USGA and Northwestern Mutual.
Operating expenses are covered by a yearly golf outing run by the county housing authority and the First Tee.
Lanny Wilson and his wife, Jaime, have lived in the Pleasant Ridge home they own for two years.
In walks through the neighborhood, they quickly discovered the golf course with their son David, now 6. The young boy started out just running around the course. Last summer, he signed up for a golf clinic and enjoyed it, said his father, who is pursuing a doctorate in the theology program at Duquesne University.
So far, David likes golf better than other sports he has tried, his father said. On a recent weekday while David was at school, his parents supervised his sister Ashleigh, 2, as she played on the course, minus the golf clubs.
For information about operating hours at the course or to sign children up for clinics: www.thefirstteepittsburgh.org CHECK, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 412-458-5114. cq
Linda Wilson Fuoco: email@example.com or 412-722-0087.