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LESSONS BEYOND JUST THE NEXT TEE

Brooksville's First Tee program spends just as much time developing the person as the golfer.

Jacob Geisler glanced out at the 9- to 13-year-olds sitting on the bleachers at the Quarry Golf Course one mid-July morning and opened with a question.

"Did everybody remember their tool belts?" the 16-year-old asked.

Heads bobbed in affirmation among the Par class, one of four classes offered by the First Tee of Brooksville program.

The tool belt is a staple concept for the First Tee program, which is run by Robert F. Buck, also a golf pro.

The program, which started in 2005 and is one of 13 chapters in the state, teaches youths life and golf skills - in that order. Half of the 1.5-hour training session is devoted to studying life skills. The remainder is spent putting those concepts into action while learning how to putt or drive the golf ball.

In 2006, there were 257 facilities nationwide, including the Brooksville chapter.

There are nine core values such as confidence and responsibility. The Brooksville chapter employs acronyms such as ALR - ask, listen and respond - which is used when the youths introduce themselves to each other.

Geisler, as well as fellow instructors/students Mike Anderson and Joe Chimienti, know all about the tool belt. The three are the only remaining original members and all belong to the Eagle class. They give back to the program by teaching the younger classes.

"You can see them grow up a lot," Chimienti said. "At the end of the week, you just ask them (questions). You don't think they're listening as much as they do because they're talking. But they do listen, and you can tell when they talk it back."

Anderson, Chimienti and Geisler can't help but smile when their young pupils respond correctly. All they have to do is look to their own lives for proof that the program's lessons pay off.

Chimienti, a recent Philadelphia transplant who used to spend his summers in Brooksville, was shy growing up. Now he speaks easily in front of the bleachers packed with 20-plus youths.

Geisler, who moved to Hernando County from St. Petersburg several years ago, used to pay attention less in the classroom. Now those B's are A's.

And Anderson, a rising junior at Hernando, used to get easily frustrated with himself on the course and lose focus. Now he keeps cool.

Anderson, like Chimienti and Geisler, has loved golf since he first started playing.

"It was the first sport that I have ever enjoyed practicing," Anderson said. "When I was younger, I used to play almost every single sport, but I never liked to practice."

That practice, Geisler said, has made the difference for the trio outside of First Tee.

Chimienti's iron play is more consistent and he has whittled his handicap down from an 18 to 4. Geisler and Anderson, aspiring golf pros, play for Hernando's golf team.

The trio plans to help out with First Tee as long as they can.

"You see the kids out there, they just want to learn, and it makes me want to help them learn," Geisler said.

"It transfers over to my life."

Kellie Dixon can be reached at kdixon@sptimes.com or (352) 544-9480.

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