For the first time, golf will be taught in Carthage elementary schools.

For the first time, golf will be taught in Carthage elementary schools.

On Wednesday, Carthage P.E. coaches from across the district gathered with the Carthage Municipal Golf Course PGA pro, Mark Peterson, to learn the Starting New At Golf (SNAG) program. Training the coaches on the materials, safety and fundamentals of the program was Springfield resident Rick Grayson, 2011 PGA National Junior Golf Leader and PGA Teaching Professional at Connie Morris Golf Learning Center at Rivercut.

“I'm here to promote golf in schools and help a good friend –  anything I can do to support Mark and his programs,” Grayson said. “One of the biggest things is the intimidation. If we can break down those walls, the kids will enjoy it. And who better to teach it than the P.E. coaches? It's in an easy and fun environment where the kids can learn the game.”

The school district received a grant, written by Patrick Scott at Arvest Bank, through the Walton Foundation, making SNAG possible for Carthage. The colorful materials for the program will be rotated between the schools in a few weeks, giving each student in P.E. by the end of this school year the chance to learn a game they can play for the rest of their lives.

“I think they'll love it,” said Coach Jacob Endicott, with Columbian. “It's something new and it will peak their interest.”

Coach Kirk Jones, with Pleasant Valley and Mark Twain, agreed.

“It's a way they can find success,” he said.

Common misconceptions about the game of golf, such as “it's only for adults,” and “it's only for rich people,” are barriers, Grayson said, that have been true in the past, but not anymore.

“We want to change that stigma as far as the future goes,” he said. “I have kids as young as four and five doing this program in Springfield … It's definably a different mindset from what it used to be.”

Other obstacles the game of golf has to overcome with the kids are abilities in patience and concentration. Coach Lowell Catron, with Steadley and the CHS Golf team, had a good point.

“In what other sport, though, can you have constant contact with the ball?” he said. “From the P.E. coaches' perspective, we can tell you, no kid always wants to be a spectator.”

SNAG provides students the chance to learn golf in indoor and outdoor settings with color-coded materials to help them advance skills in striking the ball. The “golf balls” are low-compression velcro balls that will fly only 40 yards, no matter who strikes it. There are other tools to help coaches keep the game fun and safe at the same time. Grayson said the SNAG program is being implemented throughout the area, and has seen firsthand the positive reaction from his Springfield home.

“You don't have to get technical with the swing or grip on the club,” Grayson told the coaches. “Keep it easy and don't be intimidated to teach this. As long as they're getting started hitting the ball with a club, you can't teach this wrong.”

Five years ago, SNAG was introduced in Springfield, now there are 47 schools in the city that use it. Grayson estimated that's 13,000 kids a year. After implementing the program, yearly follow-up orientations are part of the course.