Golf Coast News

Teeing It Up For Kids!

 When avid golfer and Waterlefe Golf and River Club member Bob Buchanan was looking for an avenue to help local kids after moving to Manatee County, he realized the community was lacking a program that would introduce the underserved and minority youth to the game of golf. 

 There are many occasions for kids to learn how to play basketball, football, soccer, baseball, and even cheerleading. They can play at school, at a local park, or even in the backyard. But golf requires a course and equipment that may not be available to everyone. Most kids who get the opportunity to play golf learn from a friend or family member, but what if that influence isn’t there? How many underserved and minority youth have never had the opportunity to even try the game?  Bob has made it his mission to find and expose kids to golf who may not have the means otherwise.

 With the support of the Waterlefe Golf and River Club, he was able to form a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, assembled a board of directors, also members of Waterlefe, and created the Waterlefe Youth Golf Program (WYGP). WYGP provides the underserved or minority youth in the Bradenton and Sarasota area the opportunity to learn and experience the game of golf. The program is FREE for kids 5 to 11, including lessons and equipment.

 Since its conception, the organization has received a lot of local support. Much of the support comes from Waterlefe Golf and River Club and its members. The club provides the facility at no charge to the program, and Matt Primrose, the Head Golf Pro, with volunteer coach Denny Meskill, has offered to coach the kids, and multiple members have donated their time, money, and equipment to get the program off the ground. Monetary donations are used to provide the young golfers with lessons, a set of kids US Clubs, instructional booklets, hats, visors, and logo shirts. 

 Next, it was time to find kids who were interested in learning the game. So, the “Taste of Golf” program was born. Bob, Matt, and Denny, along with other volunteers, have connected with local schools and organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, the Police Athletic League (PAL), 13th Ave Dream Center, Visible Men’s Academy, the local YMCA, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, in an effort to find and expose interested kids to golf.

 Visiting these organizations with nothing more than some used clubs, Wiffle or Nerf balls, and golf matts, Bob and his team of volunteers have introduced some 500-600 kids in Manatee County to the game of golf. So far, there are about 12 kids that have stuck with the program, coming regularly to lessons most Sunday afternoons.

 “After coaching kids for more than 20 years, Matt has learned a few things about how to run the program in a way that keeps their interest,” noted Bob. For example, after a lesson in chipping, he might organize a game in which the kids try to chip into a game of Tic-Tac-Toe he had previously outlined with orange tape on the green, with the pin in the center square. At the same time, a lesson in driving may include an opportunity to hit water balloons instead of golf balls, which always makes a big splash with the kids.

 Matt also coaches the PGA Junior League, which is a learning and competitive team. They compete with other teams from Bradenton to North Port. The hope is not just to introduce the kids in the WYGP to the game of golf but to possibly prepare kids who would like to continue to play on the PGA Junior League team. “Most of the kids had never even held a real club before, and now there are a few that can hit a 200-yard drive”, explained Bob.

 When Denny first heard about the program Bob was working on, he asked if he needed any help. He had previously coached kids with 1st Tee and was eager to have another opportunity to help kids learn the game. He also helps recruit kids through the “Taste of Golf” program.

“I love working with the younger kids especially,” he said. “They are so open and impressionable and just soak up all that you tell them.”

 It can’t be just about the lessons, Bob realized. “We needed to get these kids out and just go play golf.” So, Waterlefe Youth Golf Program, in collaboration with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Sun Coast, has partnered these kids with “golfing mentors.” Bob and his wife, Sandy, are both mentors, and there are several Waterlefe members who are interested in becoming mentors as well. Big Brothers/Sisters has four mentors interested in golfing with the kids and has referred them to the program. In that way, it has become a mutually beneficial partnership.  According to Bob: “We don’t have the means to do background checks and such, so Big Brothers and Big Sisters helps us with all of that, and in turn, I hope we are adding to their mentor program.”

 Waterlefe and its golf professionals are not the only ones wanting to help. John Byers, the head pro at River Run Golf Links, has gone out of his way to help and offered to let the kids play three to nine holes at no charge while Waterlefe was closed for renovations. “Because River Run is not quite as challenging a course as Waterlefe, it is really a better course for the kids,” Bob explained. Both Waterlefe and River Run have agreed to let the kids and their mentors continue to play up to nine holes, at no charge, during their non-busy hours when available, including a cart.  Big brother and golf mentor David Keegan and his Little Brother, Tylon, heard about the program at a Big Brothers/Big Sisters event held at the YMCA, where Bob and his team conducted a “Taste of Golf.” David taught his own son, now 19, how to golf and is excited to help Tyron learn to play. “I think it’s important to expose kids to a little bit of everything,” said David. “And one of the things that is great about golf is that no matter what your age, you will get moments of ‘I can’t believe I just did that!’” Tylon must have had a moment like that because he says that his favorite thing about golf is “hitting hole-in-ones.”

 Another Big Brother, Ray Miller, recalls how excited his Little Brother, Maijor, age 10, was after his first Sunday lesson, “He was still talking about it on Wednesday!” he said, laughing. According to Maijor, his favorite thing is “hitting the ball really far.”

 Edrick Sweeting, the parent of Aniaya, age 11, wanted her to join the program for many reasons, stating, “Golf is one sport that can help her (Aniaya) find herself.” “It can be a humbling sport,” he continued. “You have to come out and truly have concentration. And it teaches patience and helps build confidence.”

 Aniaya seemed to agree, saying, “I was trying to find something in my interest that would help me and wouldn’t be that strict, and when I found golf, it made me feel like… I’m just myself”.

 Aniaya’s stepsister, Lillyana, also 11, says she joined the program because Aniaya and some of her cousins joined. Art is what she really loves, but she decided to give golf a try. “I am not sure it’s for me,” she said, “because sometimes… it doesn’t go so well.” But, after making the winning chip during the tic-tac-toe game, we were graced with a huge smile and a little victory dance, so today it went well.

 Chloe, age 7, and her mom, Kalina, signed up for WYGP after moving from St. Petersburg, Florida, because someone recommended Matt as a youth golf coach. Chloe said that she wants to learn because she “loves playing golf with her daddy.”  “The whole idea is to get kids excited about golf that otherwise would not have the opportunity to learn to play, explained Bob. “Maybe they will continue to play at school. Who knows what doors it could open for them?” he continued. “It would be great if they continue to play, but if not, at least they had the experience.” 

 For Additional Information:  Visit Also, you can contact Bob Buchanan on 813-340-9233 or at [email protected]. Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Suncoast contact is Jessica Swift on 941-746-7000 or at jswift@             Reprinted         with      permission from Nextgen Family Magazine December 2023-January 2024 issue; Words: Sheri Roca; Pictures: Wendy Dwhurst