ROCKLAND — Week after week, like honey bees buzzing around a flower, children eagerly swarm to the practice area at the Rockland Golf Course, bringing with them their small, colorful, club-filled bags, eager to learn each aspect of an exciting new game.

And learn they do, under the tutelage of Keenan Flanagan, longtime PGA pro at the club, and his group of assistants, who include middle school coach Kevin Martin and high school standout Noah McLellan, among others.

Youngsters practice their swings. Photo by Ken Waltz

The youngsters trudge across Old County Road to the practice area to learn how to play golf through its stance, grip and swing, as well as how to chip, putt and drive the ball.

The children, about 20-plus strong, take part in the First Tee Links of Maine, spearheaded by Jim Povec, the program director.

Who can pick up the most balls? Photo by Ken Waltz

The sessions are an hour-an-a-half on Thursday afternoons.

After practicing their swings, perhaps the most enjoyable part of the session for the children is when they scamper here and there to pick up balls, a scene akin to an Easter egg hunt, where the youngsters put the small, dimpled spheres in pockets, hats, untucked shirts and any other available carrying vessel.

Locally, RGC has hosted highly-successful junior programs for decades under pros such as Peter Hodgkins and Flanagan. There also was, for a number of years, a Midcoast Junior Golf League.

The First Tee Links program came to Rockland in 2016 before the pandemic forced it to the sidelines. Now, it is back, guided by Povec, along with Flanagan’s innate and incredibly successful ability to teach youngsters a game he has been involved in since his youth.

A youngster shows her fine form. Photo by Ken Waltz

Flanagan is a member of the Maine Golf Hall of Fame and Midcoast Sports Hall of Fame.

The First Tee
 was founded in 1997 and initially included partnerships with PGA and LPGA tours.

The program, in its 25th year, introduces the game and its inherent values to young people.
 In 2016, for example, the program introduced the game to 5.1 million youth.

Getting down low to scope things out. Photo by Ken Waltz

The organization’s nine core values include: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment. The group likes to state it is “empowering children through the game of golf.”

According the website: “First Tee is a youth development organization that enables kids to build the strength of character that empowers them through a lifetime of new challenges. By seamlessly integrating the game of golf with a life-skills curriculum, we create active learning experiences that build inner strength, self-confidence, and resilience that kids can carry to everything they do. We’re building game changers through our junior golf programs.”