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Marissa Norman, 13, and Elizabeth Picking, 12, are golf students at First Tee in Virginia Beach. Marissa Norman, 13, and Elizabeth Picking, 12, are golf students at First Tee in Virginia Beach. Photo courtesy Kathy Van Mullekom
2023 May

Let's Play Golf

Discover how golf teaches discipline and why kids love it!

It’s a windy day on the golf course, the gusty kind even the best golfers dislike. The challenging weather, however, doesn’t faze girls in the Saturday morning class at First Tee in Virginia Beach.

In the clubhouse, Coaches Chloe Coyle and Amber Mackiewicz begin the 90-minute class with a lesson on how to properly mark a ball after it lands on the fairway or green. Then the dozen girls, ages 7 to 13, head out to play a couple rounds of best ball on the 9-hole walking course, located next to Virginia Beach National Golf Club.

On the 7th hole, Marissa Norman, 13, tees up her ball and drives it a nice 85 yards down the fairway. On the green, Marissa putts, but it rolls too fast past the cup. Coach Chloe encourages her to slow down and hold the putter gently. “I can tell you are really gripping,” she added.

Marissa, who has been taking lessons at First Tee for four years, was three when she learned golf from her father. “I love hanging out with my dad, and golf is one of our favorite things to do together,” she said. “I have met the most amazing people while growing my game. Golf has helped me with my social skills. I would love to become a coach and teach kids at First Tee.”

Classmate Elizabeth Picking, 12, started playing when she was 10. She likes golf because it’s a sport that anyone of any size, age, or personality can enjoy. “It doesn’t matter if you are less social or are very social,” she said. “You don’t have to be as physical to play golf as you do some other sports. You get to rely on your intellect more than your strength or speed. All you have to do is want to play.”

Marissa and Elizabeth are among 1,500 young people who have gone through Southside’s First Tee programs in the past two years, according to Morgan Miner, director of golf operations at First Tee Hampton Roads. On the Peninsula, more than 11,000 kids have gone through First Tee since the program began in 2011.

“Golf teaches skills such as emotional control, focus, motivation, and persistence,” said Morgan. “We see kids build life and leadership skills that empower them in all areas of life, including school, friendships and eventually careers.”

Here, we meet coaches and young golfers at First Tee and at local schools with golf teams.

Chloe Coyle: “The Golf Course is My Happy Place

Golf Teaches Integrity, Perseverance, and Confidence
Coach Chloe Coyle
Coach Chloe Coyle works with Jillian Wood, 8. Photo courtesy Kathy Van Mullekom

Coach Chloe’s grandfather, whom she lovingly calls “Pop Pop,” introduced her to golf before she was in first grade. Her clubs were fashionably hot pink.

“Pop Pop would take me to the driving range either at First Tee or Lynnhaven Golf Park, where I would also beat him at mini golf,” said Chloe, 19. “Pop Pop has always been my favorite golf partner and the person I look up to.”

When Chloe wasn’t playing with her grandfather, she was participating in youth tournaments and taking classes. Her passion for golf includes her fondness for First Tee in Virginia Beach, where she spent more than 300 hours volunteering, helping with youth classes, summer camps, and special events. When she turned 16 and could be hired, she became a golf instructor. Now Chloe is lead golf instructor at First Tee, helping train instructors and create curriculum.

“Golf had a big impact on me personally,” she said. “As a young child, I was shy and did not enjoy team sports because I felt a lot of pressure from other people. When I found golf, it was somewhere I belonged. Being able to wake up and go to work to coach golf every day feels like a dream. The golf course is my happy place.”

Chloe plans to continue her golf education, hoping to get her LPGA coaching certification soon. She particularly likes coaching girls because that’s where she first found her comfort zone: in a girls-only class with a female instructor.

First Tee runs an age-based program that focuses on putting, chipping, pitching, and full swing. Its core values emphasize integrity, perseverance, and confidence. “Those few values are what helped transform me from a small, scared child into a confident adult,” Chloe said.

Now as an instructor, she sees the same maturity developing in her young golfers. Frustration turns into calmness, confidence, and control. Recently, Chloe gave private lessons to a 12-year-old boy. He had tried team sports, such as soccer and baseball, but he didn’t feel comfortable in those environments. After several weeks of one-on-one lessons, his quietness turned into excited nonstop talk about golf, his mother told Chloe.

“He has made friends in our classes and now has a sport he can play for the rest of his life,” Chloe said.

Golf Plays an Important Role in a Person’s Development

Says David Cameron, Golf Coach at Norfolk Academy
Miller Carr
Miller Carr is captain of the varsity golf team at Norfolk Academy, and David Cameron, right, is coach. Photo courtesy David Cameron

David Cameron was just an early teen when he started fooling around with clubs his grandmother stored in her attic.

“She was an avid golfer who played well into her 80s,” said David, varsity golf coach at Norfolk Academy. From there, he took up serious golf and has been “working to learn the game now for nearly 45 years.”

The academy hosts coed junior and varsity golf teams that practice, play matches, and/or train in the weight room every school day during the school’s February-May golf season. They play 14 matches and compete in the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools and have won championships, including the last two, according to David.

Golf can play an important role in a young person’s overall development, David explained. Mentally, golf presents challenges that a player must master by controlling their emotions, thinking strategically, and understanding the conditions that could impact each shot.

Physically, it takes an average of 15,000 steps and four hours to walk an average round of 18 holes; matches and practices require each player to walk and carry their own clubs. Academically, players learn to be very organized with their studies and time and to communicate with their teachers if they miss school.

Miller Carr, a senior at the academy and captain of the golf team for the past two years, says golf has taught him discipline.

“Whether it’s studying for a test, practicing on the range, or lifting in the gym, the only way to improve yourself is to sit down and get to work—success has never been handed to anyone,” said Miller, who will attend High Point University and play golf in the school’s men’s program. “Golf is so much more than a sport, something I realize every time I go and practice or play.”

Golf is a Great Way to Spend Family Time

Says Henry Hutchens, Golf Team Member at Hampton Roads Academy
Henry Hutchens
Henry Hutchens is a junior and golf team member at Hampton Roads Academy in Newport News. Photo courtesy HRA

Lee Underwood, golf coach at Hampton Roads Academy in Newport News, has been around golf 45 years. After playing in high school and college, he joined HRA as a math teacher and basketball coach, then as golf coach about 35 years ago.

He encourages families to enjoy golf together and to introduce children to the sport as soon as they can hold and swing a club.

“I try to teach my students the patience and discipline and honesty of the game,” he said. “In golf, you get frustrated when things don’t go your way and that’s life. You have to figure out how to make it right.”

Henry Hutchens, a member of the golf team, agrees the sport is one of the best ways to spend family time. “My grandfather is a good golfer, and I learn a lot from him,” said Henry, who plays weekends with his grandfather Brian Hutchens and father Kevin Hutchens.

As a junior at the academy, Henry is reaching out to golf coaches at different colleges, hoping to land a spot on a team. “It’s an honorable sport, and you have to be true and honest to your game,” he said. “I hope to play a lot of golf for a long, long time.”

Kathy Van Mullekom

Kathy Van Mullekom is a retired journalist, whose beats included gardening, women’s issues, restaurant trends, and fashion. Formerly a York County resident and master gardener, she now lives in southeastern Virginia Beach, where her leisure hours are spent golfing with husband Ken and exploring parks with her two grandkids, Mattie, 9, and Grady, 7.


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