Photos By Tony Cooper
By Victoria L. Kidd
At courses across West Virginia kids and teens are getting into the game of golf. While participants of The First Tee program do indeed learn the fundamentals of the game, they are also learning a little about life along the way, and that is why Wayne Clark, owner of Locust Hill Golf Course in Charles Town, is excited to have the program offered on his course. Locust Hill is the second largest program affiliate in West Virginia, with 128 participants hailing from all across West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. (The state’s capital being the largest.)
For Clark, it’s the program’s nine core values that really sums up why Locust Hill is a dedicated affiliate for The First Tee. “The core values align with everything I believe in,” he says, referring to the program’s desire to teach honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment. “The vision of empowering and enriching youth while simultaneously teaching them the game just complements what we are all about here. It’s a program that teaches kids and youth to be better people. It invites participants to complete different exercises that teach goal setting, team building, and other aspects of life while—oh, by the way—you’ve learned how to play golf at the same time.”
According to the program’s website (www.thefirstteewestvirginia.org), the underlying instruction in life skills is the fundamental difference between it and other junior golf programs. The site says, “The Life Skills Experience is used to further enhance and instill the inherent values of the game of golf and shows participants how these values transfer into other aspects of their lives. Students are taught about responsibility, courtesy, how to make decisions by thinking about the possible consequences, how to set goals, how to define those goals, and the importance of maintaining a positive attitude as well as the importance of showing respect for others.”
These life lessons are taught through golf-related activities that have been developed to be equal parts fun and education. There are four progressive certification levels of the program, each building on the prior to continually introduce participants to more skills that will benefit them for a lifetime.
Clark believes that golf is a game that is perfectly suited for this type of instruction. “We are teaching them to challenge themselves to be better, to be ‘more.’ Golf is a game against the course and against the player’s personal best. Really, the challenge of golf is to improve one’s own self, and that really parallels to life. We teach them how to be better players and how to improve their game while teaching them to associate that challenge to be better to the real world.”
The idea of continual improvement is one that is very near to Clark’s heart, as it really is a concept that applies to the Locust Hill course itself. In February of 2014, several of the site’s buildings, including its clubhouse, were consumed by fire. In a 2014 interview with WHAG, the course’s director of the grounds at that time estimated the damages to exceed $1 million. Just a few months after that devastating loss, Clark purchased the course and set out to create a golf experience that was even better than it was before that tragedy.
He already has one thing working in his favor as he advances towards that goal. Locust Hill, built in 1991, is already well regarded for its greens. Golf-Week Magazine has previously rated the course among its top-five in West Virginia for best public access, daily fee, and resort amenities, while Golf Digest granted them a four-star rating in their 2000-2001, 2002-2003, and 2008-2009 editions. “The course itself, I believe, has some of the best greens in the state,” Clarke states. “I know we have the best greens in the Eastern Panhandle or really even within 50 miles of here. We’ve already made a lot of progress towards making sure our facilities catch up with the quality of the greens, and we will continue to improve our customer service and amenities moving forward.”
“I’m working to execute a vision for Locust Hill that really makes it a resort-style golf course with affordable prices that make golf accessible for families,” he continues. “When you go to a resort, you are given a level of service that that really exceeds your expectations. Often you pay a premium price for that treatment, but I know we can replicate that experience here while making sure our prices remain affordable.
Right now, players are getting a championship course that is really one of the most challenging courses in the state. We’ve hosted West Virginia Golf Association and West Virginia Senior Series events here, and yet, we are committed to keeping our fees reasonable.”
Players coming to experience the course are not only finding those assertions to be true, but are also finding the temporary clubhouse to be a place that far exceeds their expectations. As such, they will really be impressed when Clark’s vision for a 7,000-squarefoot clubhouse with a full bar and restaurant is realized. “Obviously, we are still in the ‘rebuild stage’ after the fire last year,” he relays, “but we are looking to build a true clubhouse. We have been and will be continuing to do everything we have been doing, but we will be improving and expanding services while making the player experience and the course itself even better.”
Clark says that everything is trending the way it needs to in order to ensure the course is on track to achieve these goals. He gives considerable credit to Course Superintendent Chris Fauble, Head Golf Professional Jason Robinson, and Marketing Director Jenna Crofford for helping him get this far in such a short period of time. He also gives sincere acknowledgement to his wife, Wendy, who supported his vision all along.
That vision helps the course continue its legacy of “doing good” in the Eastern Panhandle. The course hosts around 80 charitable tournaments and events each year. In addition to hosting those tournaments, Locust Hill is continually at the forefront of community service. For example, there is an annual turkey shoot in November, and over the past two years the course has helped donate more than $3,000 and about 3,000 pounds of turkey to area families who may otherwise go without during the holidays. They have also participated in activities benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project, the Charles Town Cannons, and various youth scholarship programs.
Their commitment to community involvement—and to programs like The First Tee—has made them the course of choice for area golfers, and under Clark’s leadership the future for Locust Hill seems bright. To support that future and to see first-hand how Clark’s stewardship has helped the course rise from the ashes, schedule your tee time by calling (304) 728-7300 or visiting www.locusthillgolf.com.