MONROE — Golf has long been a passion of RJ Baker’s, but it hasn’t always been easy to pursue either because of geography or expense. It’s the reason why he started his own golf clinic for kids called Let’s Tee Off (LTO).
LTO started this week on Tuesday and ran through Thursday, July 23. It was a free clinic for kids ages six to 14 years old. Experience was not required to participate.
Baker, 14, of Monroe wanted to create a clinic for kids like him who wanted to play golf but couldn’t because courses and/or clinics were too far or too expensive. Also, he wanted to start a clinic that was inclusive for kids who come from all backgrounds and who may not have the means to purchase golf equipment and clothes.
In a post on LTO’s Facebook page, Baker wrote about a golf camp he attended last summer.
“It made me nervous to get on the course the first day of camp. I didn’t have fancy golf shirts or equipment. It was just me, my basketball shoes and a used mixed set of clubs. I also didn’t see a lot of diversity on the golf course especially amongst kids playing. It was hard for me. I didn’t feel like I belonged at first. But I pushed through and had a good camp,” Baker wrote.
This week, more than 30 kids participated in the camp — about ten girls and the rest were boys. LTO partnered with Monroe Parks and Recreation and Monroe Police Department’s Community Outreach officers to be able to host the camp at Monroe Country Club. Donations helped pay for camp expenses like lunches and polo shirts.
City of Monroe Councilman Franco McGee assisted in organizing the camp. McGee also wanted to provide local kids with opportunities to learn how to golf. He said the clinic is an initiative to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone — especially people of color — at the country club.
He said it was surprising to see how receptive the kids were to learning how to play golf considering that it is not a popular sport in minority communities. He said golf may not be a popular sport in minority communities because of a lack of exposure due to expense.
“I feel like as a municipal golf course, we should be trying to make it so it’s not an affordability issue. It should be about if you want to do it or not, not about if you can afford it or not,” McGee said.
McGee is volunteering at the camp this week.
Ulunda, RJ’s mother, said because this clinic was a success, that they are planning to organize future golf clinics with City of Monroe Parks and Recreation.
The Bakers recently established Serve Unity Outreach, a nonprofit whose mission is to inspire and encourage volunteerism in addition to raising awareness about other local service groups. LTO is under the Serve Unity Outreach umbrella. This summer, Serve Unity has focused on student outreach by hosting events for students and teaching students how to serve others.
Ulunda said teaching local kids and her kids how to serve is personal, because there was a time when she needed “community service people.”
“My family was in and out of homelessness and poverty. Growing up we always said when we got older that if we were able to overcome that, we would want to give that back,” she said. “Our kids have not experienced that, but we want our kids to never forget that families are just a job loss away from needing food, shelter and clothes. It’s important for our kids to learn how to serve.”
Joking, she said kids will oftentimes listen to other kids rather than adults about the importance of community service; therefore, LTO’s golf clinic is a great way for her kids to teach other kids how to serve.