MANILA A 20-year dream for C.W. Cummings came true last Monday as Mylas Jeffers, chairman of the Mississippi County Economic Opportunity Commission Board of Directors, signed a 15-year contract officially establishing Blytheville as the 105th The First Tee youth golf program in the nation.
The signing of the contract hands over The Oaks Country Club in Blytheville to The First Tee program.
"This gives us a permanent base," Cummings said. "This is one major hurdle we had to overcome."
The youth golf program is only the third First Tee program in the state and the only program of its kind in northeast Arkansas.
"We have been working towards this goal since 1984," Cummings added. "Since that time we have been at the mercy of doing programs without a permanent base.
The program is now officially titled The First Tee of Northeast Arkansas at The Oaks.
Cummings' youth golf program has, since 1984, offered its services free of charge and Cummings says that will continue with The First Tee.
"We had the option of charging a $50 per year registration fee," said Cummings, "but we wanted all interested youths to have the opportunity to participate regardless of their incomes."
The First Tee of Northeast Arkansas at The Oaks will provide youths in northeast Arkansas with more than just golf instruction. The First Tee experience also has a strong life skills component that includes community service and mentoring opportunities. The purpose of the experience is to further enhance and instill the values of the game of golf and show the participants how those values transfer to other aspects of their lives.
Some of the values taught in the program are courtesy, sportsmanship, honesty, responsibility, integrity, confidence and integrity.
Individuals in the program are taught how to make decisions by thinking about the possible consequences, how to define and set goals, the importance of maintaining a positive attitude, and how those values transfer from the golf course to everyday life.
Cummings said that in addition to the program being offered in Blytheville, other golf facilities may become involved as an affiliate.
"Other golfing facilities in northeast Arkansas may contact us about becoming an affiliate," Cummings said. "As an affiliate, they would provide course access to certified The First Tee cardholders.
Paragould Country Club and Brookland Hills have already expressed their interest in becoming affiliate courses.
The nonprofit program will begin its fund-raising efforts with the selling of tiles that will be used to construct a Walk of Honor at The Oaks.
Plans are in place for the construction of a tile walkway surrounding a concrete structure adorned with The First Tee logo in the shape of a golf ball on a tee and pointing towards the course's first hole.
The structure will also have 12 concrete pillars that will honor 12 chapter sponsors.
"This is something very unique to our chapter," Cummings said. "No other The First Tee programs in the nation have attempted this. We plan on this becoming a landmark in northeast Arkansas."
Future plans also call for the construction of an indoor learning center on the grounds of The Oaks.
The First Tee program will officially take over operation of The Oaks on April 1.
June 1 is the target date for the grand opening.
Cummings said the program will kick off April 2 with after school events.
"Throughout the spring, we will have classes from 4-6 p.m. after school," he said. "In summer, we will go to full time offering classes all day long.
"We've already begun contacting schools and inviting them to bus students in for an afternoon of golf and to show them what we have to offer," Cummings said.
There are currently three directors in the program and several parents and avid golfers who are going to help out program instructions.
"We will add instructors as participants grow," added Cummings.
A parent group from Trumann has also contacted Cummings about being involved.
"This is a very unique program in which it is designed specifically for youths," Cummings said. "The only adults that will play on the course are those that are guests of the kids."
The only other The First Tee programs in Arkansas are located in Little Rock and Fort Smith. Both programs require a registration fee.
The First Tee is overseen and has the active support of a committee comprised of members representing golf's major organizations including the PGA of America, PGA Tour, the Augusta National Golf Club, Ladies Professional Golf Association and United States Golf Association.
More information on The First Tee experience can be found online at www.thefirsttee.org