The COVID-19 pandemic led to health protocols that limited participation for the youth clinics in June the past two years at the private golf club.
“We had to scale back but we never stopped showing these kids that they’re valuable to us,” said foundation president Linda Wilder-Bryan, also District 3 Alderwoman on the Savannah City Council. “The way that we get there is we connect with them spiritually, holistically.”
The LB4 & After Foundation is a local nonprofit organization for community programming and advocacy that was formed by the parents of Lawrence Bryan IV, who was murdered on Aug. 7, 2015. The foundation organizes events such as giveaways of food, school supplies and personal-care products as well as new bicycles for children.
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One emphasis is for children to set goals and develop a strategy to achieve them — what she calls a bucket list.
“We want them to understand that we’re going to make some things happen for them if they want to stay connected and stay on a path,” Wilder-Bryan said. “Get that bucket list, that strategy, so they can really be the best that they can be so the whole world can see.”
It was that last rhyming phrase that she had a group of children responsively chanting during an announcement March 18 at the W.W. Law Community Center.
“I want to be the best that I can be for the whole world to see,” the audience of children repeated after she explained the concept.
Wilder-Bryan and her husband, foundation vice president Lawrence Bryan III, announced a new golf fundamentals program for ages 7-18 based at the community center. He has created a summer program with the collaboration of host Savannah Golf Club, where he tended bar for many years, in what he called “a win-win situation.”
In the summers, they bring kids to the golf course from community and recreation centers such as W.W. Law, the Frank Callen Boys & Girls Club, the John S. Delaware Regional Center and the C.B. Grant Neighborhood Center.
Now they’re bringing the golf to the kids’ neighborhoods with equipment donated by the golf community, including from The Savannah Golf Club.
“In our golf program, we get kids that have never touched a golf club, never been on a golf course,” Bryan said, noting that volunteer instructors such as head golf professional Alex Messinger and club members Doug Giorgio and Tony Center start at the beginning.
“(Giorgio) explains to them about the essentials of golf, the sportsmanship, that it’s a gentleman’s game, safety,” Bryan said. “He explains everything to them before they ever get on a golf course.”
A retired dentist, Giorgio said he wants novice golfers to have fun and to know that this can be a lifetime activity.
“You might be good at basketball. You might be good at football. But when you’re my age, you’re not playing those. You can play golf,” said Giorgio, 78, who also stresses course safety.
No running on the golf course
Center, an attorney and foundation board member, says teaching golf has been a lot of fun.
“I have to tell them you don’t run in golf because kids like to run,” Center, 72, said with a laugh. “Slow down, don’t run with the club in your hand. It’s not a speed game.
“They have a lot of energy. They get frustrated just like we do. I think they enjoy the fact that somebody’s out there trying to encourage them to do something they hadn’t done,” he added. “They’re not seeing a barrier to being golfers that their parents saw.”
Bryan also took the opportunity at the March 18 announcement to educate the children on the Savannah civil rights pioneer for whom the center is named.
“W.W Law was a fearless leader in Savannah,” Bryan said. “He fought so hard. I wanted to give them a history lesson first about that.”
Another sport to play
There will be golf lessons ahead, and Virgil Cooper, recreation supervisor at the community center, believes children will take to the sport. The center already offers basketball, volleyball, softball and track and field.
“Kids do what they see. When I was coming up with my friends, we played certain sports,” said the Savannah native, who grew up playing baseball, basketball and football, and played quarterback and pitched at Savannah High School. “We’re trying to get kids interested in things other than basketball and football. Hopefully, they’ll get interested in golf.”
Cooper, now 54, was a good enough right-handed pitcher to be selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 25th round of the 1987 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Labette Community College in Parsons, Kansas. He pitched in the minor leagues for the White Sox organization.
His talent level isn’t quite there with golf, which he only started playing in April 2021 after traveling with the kids to Lawrence Bryan’s summer golf camps. He was asked how his golf game is going.
“It’s going. It’s rough but it’s going. I’m not losing as many balls as I used to,” said Cooper, who brings 30-40 balls when he plays 18 holes at local public courses and finishes with “between 10 and 20.”
“Now, as time has gone, I don’t lose as many. I keep them in the fairway more now,” Cooper said. “I’m a work in progress.”
Bringing golf programs to youth also is a work in progress, as W.W. Law was added to the existing program at Frank Callen Boys & Girls Club, with the Pennsylvania Avenue Resource Center up next, Wilder-Bryan said.
The Bryans are looking forward to each community center forming a team with names like “Strategy” (W.W. Law) and “Perseverance” (Callen). The bigger picture is helping youth navigate life, such as creating possibilities they might not otherwise consider, such as using golf to get a college education.
“Here’s another stream,” Wilder-Bryan said. “You don’t have to play just basketball. They give golf scholarships, too. We want to introduce our children to all of the opportunities that they can go if they want to go to (college). This is another stream, another way to get to go to school.”
Nathan Dominitz is the Sports Content Editor of the Savannah Morning News and savannahnow.com. Email him at [email protected] Twitter: @NathanDominitz
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Bryans bring Savannah youth golf program to W.W. Law Community Center