THE COMMMERCIAL APPEAL
Saturday, September 26, 2013 | Memphis, TN | My Life/Greater Memphis
BY ROSEMARY BARNES, MAM Communications Intern, 901.305.3232
When most people think of golf, the word “boring” seems to immediately come to mind. Unsightly images of plaid shorts, pastel polo shirts, monogrammed tees and odd sounding words like bogey, shank, wedge, chip and slice are not the images or words that would draw many youth to play or even want to learn the game.
But one conversation with Vince Alfonso, Jr., PGA Professional quickly shatters these stereotypes. Alfonso has brought his 40 plus years of professional golf experience into a harvest field called Memphis Athletic Ministries’ (MAM) Golf Program. His mandate is to present golf in a way that allows a diverse group of youth to love God, love others and love themselves. The MAM Golf Program promotes spiritual growth, academic excellence, life skills development and fitness through partnerships with after school programs in Memphis for boys and girls ages 8-12 through the week and 8 to 18 year olds from across the city on Saturdays.
“We let all the children and parents know that the MAM Golf program, first and foremost, is about Jesus.”
This fact is very obvious as you look at the flags on the nine greens named: Love, Joy, Peace, Goodness, Kindness, Faithfulness, Humility, Patience and Self-Control. The MAM Golf Program is housed at the MAM Park Golf Course on 2146 Ball Road (the former Defense Depot golf course). Alfonso laughs pointing to a large black and white picture of a young Arnold Palmer in the lobby of the clubhouse saying, “One of the kids asked me if that was a picture of me when I was young.”
As he speaks, the whole atmosphere in the clubhouse is instantly charged with his energy and passion. There is a fatherly air about him as he begins to enthusiastically talk about the youths’ latest accomplishment of placing five from the MAM Park Golf Course on the West Tennessee PGA Junior Golf League All-Star Team.
“This Junior Golf league is something new from the PGA. And, in a way, it is the first time a true “team” approach has been a part of golfing competition,” explains Alfonso.
He begins to list the changes at a rapid fire pace. Many are too technical and unfamiliar to neophytes, but the results were much needed. Alfonso feels these changes help to even the playing field, increase interest in the game, speed up the game, reduce the stress and most importantly, for this age group, make it more fun. He also states that a little thing like adding team jerseys by the PGA makes a big statement in fostering a “team” image that was not always present in the sport before this competition.
Teams from MAM Park Golf, Windyke Country Club, TPC Southwind, Audubon Golf Course and Spring Creek Ranch all fielded teams in the West Tennessee chapter of the competition.
“The parents have been behind the children 100% and without that none of this would have been possible.” Alfonso states that the trip to the finals in Chattanooga was only possible because of the parents’ commitment to pay or do fundraising to cover the costs for their children. Smiling broadly, he states, “Five of the MAM Golf Park team was placed on the ten member PGA Junior Golf All-Star team. That is a tremendous accomplishment for kids who have not grown up familiar with golf.”
“Not only have I become a golfer, but I have also learned to have good character and a stronger faith,” says Hali Smith, 13, an eighth grader at Bellevue Middle School. “I also learned that hard work pays off.”
Alfonso ends by explaining that for many of the MAM youth, this was their first exposure to golf on this level. “We are proud of them. They finally had an opportunity to do what they have been learning here, to love God, love others and love themselves while playing golf with children from all around the state.”
This article was published in the Commercial Appeal on Saturday, October 26, 2013.