PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — William Hyndman’s first meeting with the superintendent of Walnut Lane Golf Course was an eye-opener.
As executive director of the youth development non-profit The First Teeof Greater Philadelphia, Hyndman had become the de facto general manager of the course somewhat reluctantly.
The Parks and Rec Department had been unable to find a management company willing to take on the course, which had been neglected by prior contractors.
Overgrown trees crowded the fairways, storm damage created an eye sore around the perimeter, golfers were going elsewhere. Though not its primary mission, the First Tee agreed to try to turn it around.
“The board decided– we wanted to invest in the community and it was too important to the kids in our program– to step up and run the golf course,” says Hyndman.
So he went to meet the superintendent and found him covering his desk, inside the maintenance building, with a tarp. “Why?” Hyndman asked.
“He said, ‘it’s supposed to rain tonight.’” Hyndman looked up and saw eight holes in the roof.
Things got worse before they got better.
Impatient neighbors complained. KYW Newsradio did a story about the dead trees, downed limbs and gnarled fencing along Henry Avenue.
But Hyndman says the story helped the non-profit get the help it needed to make improvements.
Asplundh sent eight crews out to work for three days on the trees. Volunteers from the superintendents’ association helped aerate, top dress and reseed the entire course. Buckley construction has agreed to replace missing fences and gates
“We’re starting to get some really good comments from the community and the golfers and our kids that are involved in our programs,” he says, “which is really gratifying because we have put in a lot of work.”
Neighbor Feudi Pandola agrees, the improvements are apparent, even from outside the course.
“I’m happy to say they’ve made progress,” says Pandola, who last year complained conditions were hazardous.
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell is also impressed.
“Golf courses just require an incredible amount of maintenance,” she says, “and because we want to keep them affordable and accessible, they don’t generate as much revenue as a private golf club could and with all of our other needs, it’s just not something that we’ve been able to invest in to the level that it needs so we really rely on the concessionaires to be as innovative and creative as they can and the First Tee is a good example of that.”
Hyndman says there’s more to do but he hopes to begin luring golfers back. He thinks they’ll be pleased with the turf and the greens. The pruned trees let more sunshine in and won’t interfere with their shots anymore.
“Some people that may have had a bad experience when conditions were poor, if we can bring them back just once and they can see that things have improved immensely then we’ll get them to come back repeatedly.”
In the meantime, though, the First Tee is busy most afternoons, grooming the future of golf with the youth development programs that are its main mission.
Fourth-grader Caitlyn Plover was part of a group practicing their focus on the ball by walking with it on a tee across the Walnut Lane putting green.
“My mother just asked me one day, ‘Caitlyn, do you want to play golf?’ and I said, ‘sure’ and here I am, four years later,” she says. “I like meeting new people. I like going out on the course.”
While Caitlyn is proud of the techniques she’s learned in putting and driving, Hyndman says the real goal is bigger lessons.
“We teach kids life skills: self management, resiliency, goal-setting and interpersonal skills,” he says, “they learn how to introduce themselves, they look you in the eyes, it’s very impressive. We want to teach kids core values so they can be successful in life. Our vehicle is the game of golf but our goal isn’t to teach kids to be phenomenal golfers.”
Maybe not but Caitlyn thinks she’s pretty good. And she expects to get better.
“I can see myself in retirement playing golf.”