It’s a Saturday morning at Starcke Park Golf Course in Seguin, and the course is packed.
Golfers are everywhere, the parking lot is full, and the first tee is a conveyer belt of group after group teeing off during the busy weekend day.
In the middle of it all, kids from the First Tee program are on the range and the course, learning golf and life lessons from assistant pro Gabby Rangel and her all-volunteer staff of coaches.
Her Saturday morning classes are full this summer — the program thriving after she kicked it off just last fall.
Teaching kids how to hit a golf ball, and seeing the joy that comes from hitting that first good shot, is Rangel’s primary motivation.
“Seeing them hit that one shot in the air, they just get so pumped about it,” she said. “To see them do that, and realize they can play golf, that’s the fire that’s in my heart.”
She has also seen the kids grow, in confidence and maturity, in just the last few months of working with them.
“I’ve seen my ‘par’ class, and even my ‘player’ class become so much more mature than when I first got them,” Rangel said. “They’re becoming good little golfers.”
She was inspired to get the program going in Seguin because there had been a lack of opportunities for kids to get started in the game.
“There was really nothing here and I grew up here, this was my home course,” Rangel said. “We really didn’t have any consistent junior golf. This is a program that’s going to be more consistent.
Rangel said she hopes that her students will go on to play in middle school and into high school.
“These are the kids that are going to be playing here in the future,” she said. “I’m just trying to plant good seeds here, that was my goal.”
The First Tee program was established more than 20 years ago, and now boasts more than 1,000 chapters nationwide, with more than five million kids participating last year.
Seguin is one of the newest chapters, where Rangel began the classes last fall after going through training to lead the program at Starcke Park.
“I had to go to training in Fort Worth on safety, building lesson plans, how kids’ bodies work, their behavior and attitude,” Rangel said. “It was full-on level one training, level two training is coming up in September in Utah.”
Kids from 6 years old and up at Saturday’s sessions hit balls, practiced putting, played a mini-tournament over a few holes and more, depending on the level of class they were taking.
Rangel currently is teaching the first two levels of students, the “player’” and ”par” levels, but graduates of the “par” level will progress to the “birdie” level for their next two classes, thus necessitating her returning for more training.
The kids work through the classes and complete an assessment test at the end to move up to the next level.
The curriculum not only includes golf, but emphasizes life lessons to students; a postiive mental attitude, sportsmanship, golf etiquette, and various other life skills are also taught in the classes.
The next classes are scheduled for this fall, but Rangel said that because of renovations to the clubhouse scheduled for that time, the dates are yet to be determined.
Amy Nelson was at Starcke Park on Saturday, watching her son James, 13, participate in the class.
James had already been through the first sessions at the First Tee in New Braunfels in the “player” classes.
“He decided he wanted to improve his game this summer,” Nelson said. “We as a family had wanted them to have a First Tee program here in Seguin because it has that amazing core to it that builds skills that kids can take away from the golf course.”
Nelson noted the good sportsmanship and the positive attitude taught in the program as major factors in signing James up.
“Some of those things are hard to come by in other organized sports, but the program really promotes that on the course and outside of the course,” she said.
Having graduated from the “player” level, James is taking the “par” level courses this summer, which means he actually goes out on the course for mini-tournaments.
Saturday’s was a three-hole scramble with his fellow classmates.
“It went all right,” James said. “We started out rough, but it got a little better.” His team managed to par the last hole while they were on the golf course.
James plans on taking what he has learned into high school, and playing on the golf team after playing on his junior high team last year.
“I’m going to continue to play,” he said. “I think this is a growing thing for me — it’s kind of my thing now.”
Justin Loera, Alex Fedewa and Zachary Fedewa, were there with their dad, Daniel Loera, a lifelong golfer at Starcke Park.
Zachary completed the player level course in the spring, while Alex and Justin were taking their first classes at the player level.
“I grew up playing this course,” Daniel said. “When Gabby started the First Tee, we wanted to get our boys in here to learn.”
His love of the game, which he began playing at 8 years old, is something he hopes he can pass on to his sons.
“I would like them to enjoy golf as much as I do, they can play it for a long time,” Daniel said.
Rangel is assisted by volunteers at every session, who are vital to the program, as she can’t be everywhere at once.
“They are the ones that make it happen,” Rangel said. “I send them the lesson plans early in the week, so they know what we’re doing and I don’t have to run around.
“They know the warm up and wrap up, so it makes it easier when I have that help. It’s not just one person, it takes all of us.”
Rangel is still looking for more volunteers.
“When it’s nine weeks in a row, it can be a little much,” she said. “It would be nice if we could switch off.”
To check on availability for the next classes, or to volunteer, contact Rangel at the Starcke Park pro shop at 830-401-2490.