HAMILTON — On the ninth and final hole of The First Tee golf program's championship Monday at the Hamilton Golf Club, seven-year-old Ridley Tadvick displayed nearly all nine of the core values that The First Tee tries to teach its young golfers.
"In golf, if you putt your ball into another player's ball, that's a two-stroke penalty," First Tee golf director Scott Marsh explained. "(When Ridley's shot hit another ball), he immediately said, 'Yep, two stroke penalty on me.'
"Ridley showed it’s more important to be honest and follow the rules of golf than it is to win. And he almost lost it."
Ridley still managed to make his next putt and win his age group — the youngest bunch to play nine holes. He shot a 54 to win by two strokes, and he particularly remembered an approach shot in the round.
"I had one iron shot that put me to chipping. It went very well," the primary school student said.
What Marsh and a host of the parents and coaches took away from the round, though, is that The First Tee's teaching points are sticking with their kids.
The First Tee, a national golf program, sets out to not only build the next generation of golfers but teach them about life. The program focuses on nine core values: Honesty, Integrity, Sportsmanship, Respect, Confidence, Responsibility, Perseverance, Courtesy and Judgment.
Ridley's ownership of a penalty that nearly cost him a tournament title essentially personified each core value. Mind you, he's seven years old.
"You get these kids out here without bad habits, and you help them and teach them the game to where they respect it," Marsh said. "We just try to bridge them from teaching the fundamentals, getting them excited about golf and then turn them over to the golf pros out here that can then give them lessons and get them to the next level."
The tournament on Monday was a culmination of a summer program where young golfers — the program is open for kids age six to 18 — work on the core values and their skills on the golf course. Classes were held both in Hamilton and at the Whitetail Golf Course in Stevensville. Over 60 kids attended the camps with 33 turning out for the tournament Monday.
One of the biggest improvers in terms of score was Marsh's daughter, Avery, who improved by 10 strokes from last year. Scott joked at the award ceremony that he truly wasn't in charge of her scorecard.
But as director of The First Tee, he could take some credit for his seven-year-old shooting a 20 in three holes.
"Last year, she did it as a six-year-old and she got a 30 because we had a 10 shot max," Marsh said. "This year I was shocked to see her score 20 on three holes. It’s pretty cool. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve played, but she did four weeks of The First Tee this summer, she did two out in Hamilton and two more in Stevensville with me, so it must be helping a little bit."
If demonstrated sportsmanship on the course and improvement in most of the golfers' scores weren't enough, the program and tournament also helps grow "the greatest game."
"…The notion is that people think it’s just for rich people or just for old people or whatever and that's not the case," Marsh said. "You don’t know how many people I play with that are older out here that say ‘Oh, I wish I would have started this when I was younger.’"
Marsh also pointed out that when The First Tee program teed off several years ago only Hamilton and Stevensville had high school golf programs. Now Darby, Florence — where Marsh is the athletic director — and Corvallis all have teams. The Corvallis girls, in their third year as a program, brought home a third-place state trophy last year.
Two sisters from Corvallis' state placing team were on the course Monday helping keep score for some of the younger golfers.
"Signee and Keelee Storrud have their (younger) sisters in it now, and they were out here keeping score for us and seeing those high school kids back out here as well (is rewarding)," Marsh said.
Ideally, those high school programs will have a few more talented — and well taught — golfers joining their teams in just a couple more years.