Tracey Cultice, a physical education teacher at the St. Brendan School in Hilliard, hadn't had time to take inventory of the contents inside the two blue and red bags burgeoning with golf equipment yet before she began thanking those responsible for the donation.
"If I would have ordered all this out of a magazine, it probably would have cost a couple of thousand dollars," she said, peaking inside the bags. "No way could we have afforded that."
A similar assessment of current financial restrictions likely played out at every one of the nine central-Ohio elementary schools visited by the Memorial's Clubhouse Kids Golf Tour presented by Allstate Insurance during April.
The free clubs, balls, tee mats and targets are part of a broader gift package. An hour-long instructional clinic led by Muirfield Village Golf Club teaching professional Joe Wisler, whose brother, Jim, is a former tournament director at the Memorial, also is provided although a handful of dreamers may have come away momentarily disappointed.
"The kids have been pumped and excited all day waiting for this," Cultice said of the afternoon presentations. "Of course, the first question they all asked was, 'Is Tiger Woods coming?'"
Humor aside, the tour is designed to introduce the sport to children and is an extension of the popular and better-known First Tee Program. Clubhouse Kids was founded in 2004, and Allstate joined the effort the following year.
"We've reached about 40,000 students in 14 school districts so far," said Heather Baxter, who is the assistant sales and marketing director for the Memorial. "We were one of the first (PGA Tour) tournaments to partner with First Tee on something like this, and our goal is to get to every classroom out there. That's a considerable challenge but a worthwhile one."
After a school is selected to be a stop on the tour, teachers such as Cultice attend a four-hour seminar held in March every year at Muirfield Village.
"We partner with First Tee to develop a curriculum according to national physical education standards," Baxter said. "And we also work with the curriculum director in each school district to help us navigate from there. We want to educate and we want to do it the right way."
Safety is another top concern. The donated SNAG (Starting New At Golf) equipment is made of plastic, and the clubs are even color coded to help children learn where to place their hands. Several tee mats are laid out in a row during the clinic and participants are instructed to call out when they're about to swing. Tennis balls also are used.
"I'd be more than a little nervous having 30 kids swinging metal clubs around," Cultice said with a laugh.
She and Wisler had plenty of eyes and ears to help ensure the presentation in Hilliard went smoothly. They were joined by Darren Workman, another teaching professional from Muirfield Village. Martin Mitchell, a local Allstate agent, also was on hand as was Spike Morton, an assistant caddie master at Muirfield Village and a former middle-school teacher in Groveport.
"This is my retirement gig," Morton said, smiling. "I love seeing the look on the kids' faces when they step up and make real contact with the ball that first time. They just light up."
Morton concluded the presentation, which also featured an etiquette lesson and plenty of jokes, by handing out folders that included a sheet detailing the game's basic rules, a certificate of achievement for attending the clinic, a list of terms used in the game and information on how to enter the Clubhouse Kids' coloring contest. Wisler is one of the judges.
Morton also reminded the audience that Wednesdays now are designated as "Junior Golf Day" at the Memorial, with more than 600 children in grades 3-6 representing a half-dozen elementary schools attending on field trips as part of the celebration. All children under age 18 are admitted free on Wednesdays and can enjoy a series of pre-tournament events, including the Double Skins Game and Junior Clinic. Children attending the Junior Clinic, which is held at the Safari Golf Club in Dublin, will receive complimentary gift bags if they bring a canned good to donate to charity.
"The reaction we get from our tour presentations is all very positive," Baxter said. "And I typically get a lot of emails from the (physical education) teachers, especially. They see first hand how excited everyone is and what the program is doing. That's become one of the best parts of my job."
To learn more about the Clubhouse Kids Program call 614-889-6700 or visit www.thememorialtournament.com.
Spike Morton, an assistant caddie master at Muirfield Village Golf Club, gives a high-five to Anthony Dinovo, a kindergarten student at St. Brendan, after Dinovo hit a shot April 28 during the Memorial Tournament's Clubhouse Kids Golf Tour event at the school.
(Above) Anna Hamrock, a third-grader at St. Brendan, drives a tennis ball as her classmates watch. (Below) Muirfield Village teaching pro Joe Wisler shows Matthew Mahoney, a third-grader at St. Brendan, how to properly grip a club.