published Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Donations help Brainerd hit first tee shot

Brainerd High School golfer James Ford, Jr., left, sets down his bag, while McCallie Blue Tornado golfers Bobby Jones, center, and Brady Jackson, walk with him along the fourth hole fairway at Brainerd Golf Course. Ford is a member of the newly revived Brainerd High golf team; the team has not existed for several decades.
Brainerd High School golfer James Ford, Jr., left, sets down his bag, while McCallie Blue Tornado golfers Bobby Jones, center, and Brady Jackson, walk with him along the fourth hole fairway at Brainerd Golf Course. Ford is a member of the newly revived Brainerd High golf team; the team has not existed for several decades.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.

They looked like golfers in the morning walking through the halls of Brainerd High School decked out in new, white, Nike Dry-Fit polo shirts.

And they felt good too.

They looked even more like golfers when they arrived at Brainerd Golf Course in the afternoon for the first match a Brainerd team has played in a generation.

"This was my first time really playing golf," Christian Sinclair said. "I had a lot of fun today. I can see this becoming a hobby."

Somebody donated the shirts. Somebody else donated visors. Several folks -- from widows to Honors Course members -- donated clubs. Another party even stepped up and donated high-end Nike golf shoes that retail for more than $150 since word started spreading that the inner-city school started up a golf team.

"It's been amazing, the response we've had," Kauchak said, before driving four of his players back to their home for the night. "It's been unbelievable, the generosity people have shown to us. Folks from Signal Mountain all the way to Florida have donated stuff."

And the players enjoyed everything about Wednesday, except for maybe the first tee shot where nerves were doubled compared to most casual golfers.

They played. They competed. They're historic.

The Panthers looked like the beginners that they are against the McCallie junior varsity team which beat Brainerd 6-0 in match play.

Panthers topped tee shots. They shanked approaches. They blew putts 10 feet past the hole or left them 10 feet short when they reached the green before picking up at triple-bogey. They also showed some promise with some shots that anybody playing the beautifully manicured Brainerd would be proud to claim.

Tyree Stubbs scored a bogey on the par-3 No. 2. Stubbs said he hit a "3-driver" off the tee, chipped on the green and had his first putt lip-out.

The golfers represented Brainerd with class and had paying golfers watch a shot or two and ask how they were doing. One golfer squinted to see 'BRAINERD' stitched on a visor then wished everybody good luck.

"We do look like golfers," Kauchak said, "until we swing."

For five of the six Panthers who played, Wednesday marked the first time that they played competitive golf. Assistant coach Will Casey, an assistant golf pro at Signal Mountain, calculated that the Panthers had played seven holes and practiced for 30 hours at Wilcox before taking on the McCallie squad.

All but James Ford Jr., who has been in The First Tee of Chattanooga, started swinging golf clubs for the first time in their lives about six weeks ago at Wilcox Driving Range.

"He was so proud to put that shirt on this morning," James Ford Sr., said of his son. "He's really excited about Brainerd having a golf team. And I think he's more excited about school."

Mr. Ford watched every shot his son made on Wednesday. He smiled almost all afternoon and burst out in laughter at times and gave a standing ovation when a McCallie player chipped-in on No. 8.

"I tell him, 'It's not whether you win, it's how you play -- carry yourself with dignity,'" Mr. Ford said. "People will help as long as you carry yourself in a good way."

Help re-starting the program has come from various circles of the great Chattanooga community and within it greater golfing family. Former PGA Tour golfer Gibby Gilbert II, who tied for second in the 1980 Masters, donated his time on Monday to help with their golf swings.

"I played golf today," said Stubbs, who repeatedly thanked those who helped outfit the team. "It was different than the range because there were trees everywhere. I used to play it on a video game. It's a fun activity, and I'm going to keep playing golf and see how I turn out.

"I could be Tiger Woods. Or, Tyree Woods."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter a twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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