New junior golf program launches in Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    ‘Golf is a sport, and you need to warm up properly,’ said First Tee instructor Ryan Toole who leads the Wednesday class in planking as part of warm ups at the Puakea Golf Course.

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    First Tee instructor Ken Miyata watches as Jet Tydinko reacts to his hole-in-one on the first hole of the short course, or putting phase of class, Wednesday at the Puakea Golf Course.

  • Courtesy of HSJGA

    Casey Watabu of the Grove Farm Company, and the president of the Kaua‘i Junior Golf Association, presents a $5,000 award to representatives of the First Tee golf program.

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    Kai Yamamoto follows his approach shot to “Capture the flag,” Wednesday during the First Tee class at the Paukea Golf Course.

LIHU‘E — Jet Tydinko — all seven years of him — exploded Wednesday off the starting block of the first tee on the short course, or putting, phase of class at the Puakea Golf Course.

The young golfer pumped his fist and leapt high after his opening shot rattled the hole with an ace during the Wednesday First Tee class at the First Tee program.

In addition to the Wednesday class, First Tee also hosts a class on Sunday starting at 3:30 p.m. at the Puakea Golf Course.

First Tee doesn’t just get kids on the course, states its program website. First Tee offers them exciting opportunities for growth as shown by the progress demonstrated by the eight budding golfers who opened the program last week at the first class held on Kaua‘i.

“Junior golf is back on Kaua‘i,” said Matt Rollins, the executive director of the Hawai‘i State Junior Golf Association, when he accepted a sponsorship check from the Grove Farm Company that launched the program “building game changers” at the Puakea Golf Course. “First Tee on Kaua‘i takes young keiki and helps build character strengths and life skills through golf.”

First Tee started in 1997 as a partnership among the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, the PGA Tour and the USGA to make golf affordable and accessible for all kids.

Unlike the Keiki Golf Day led by PGA professionals, First Tee takes the game beyond a day’s introduction through an eight-week series of classes, each week building on what was learned previously.

“Grove Farm is excited to partner with First Tee — Hawai‘i to make the Puakea Golf Course the first location on Kaua‘i,” said Casey Watabu, who was announced as the new president for the Kaua‘i Junior Golf Association. “First Tee-Hawai‘i will bring tremendous opportunities to young juniors who are interested in the game of golf. The program is structured to instill valuable life skills such as honesty, integrity, respect, and sportsmanship that will positively impact each junior golfer’s character on and off the golf course.”

Watabu said First Tee-Hawai‘i also supports the island’s need for developmental opportunities.

Joining Watabu on the KJGA leadership team, Fran Roach was announced vice president, Rachel Dela Cruz, treasurer, and Rollins secretary. Directors for KJGA include Alan King, Ken Miyata, Pono Tokioka, Jennifer Herljac, Jamie Matsumura, Lauren Yama and Doug Sutter.

“We have some great new people on the KJGA board, and some alumni of KJGA who will help make a difference and grow the game locally here on Kaua‘i,” Watabu said. “We are also excited to partner and support other junior-golf initiatives on the island that will assist with the development of the young membership that we have.”

With the first classes underway, First Tee instructor Ryan Toole said they plan to have another round of classes start in April.

“With Puakea GC’s central location and excellent practice facilities, this was the perfect fit for the program,” Rollins said. “The kids will not only meet other kids with similar interests, they will learn some very important core values while enjoying the game. Additionally, to of the three lead coaches are alumni of the Kaua‘i Junior Golf Association, and the kids will love learning from Ken Miyata, Taryn Taguma (a collegiate golfer with the University of Hawai‘i-Hilo) and Ryan Toole.”

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Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or


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