Rhys Kennedy (Wolf Clan), 8, is one of 30 students enrolled in the Oneida Indian Nation Summer Jam program. Open to Oneida Members, children of enrolled Oneidas and Oneida Indian Nation Health Services clients, Rhys is one of many children spending his summer learning about Oneida heritage and culture, as well as exploring the world around him.

He also enrolled in First Tee. The First Tee is a national initiative that aims to build character, help children make healthy choices and instill life-enhancing values through golf.

“It’s grown from a small handful or players and then, the next thing you know, we’ve grown to 30,” said Eric Lorenzetti, head golf professional at Turning Stone Resort Casino. “We take what they learn as beginners and apply it on the course. We talk about etiquette, life lessons and core values and how to apply it to other aspects of life.”

Rhys said he enjoyed the experience. “I like going on the putting green and riding on the golf cart,” he said, before adding that the hardest thing, “is to get the ball off the grass.”

Joining Rhys during play at Turning Stone’s Sandstone Hollow – a nine-hole, par-three course designed by Rick Smith – were fellow first-timers Kinlin Thomas, 9, and Caleb Zydzik, 10. Kinlin said he enjoys hitting the ball, adding that “golf is a good sport to play.”

“I think the best part is driving and the worst part is when the ball gets into the sand, or goes into the weeds,” said Caleb, who just enjoys being on the golf course. His tip: “Aim your shoulders to where you want the ball to go.”

Such is great advice from novice golfers who on this day were putting their learning to use as Eric monitored play. At the same time returning First Tee students were, if you will, in the thick of it in terms of driving and pitching at the Golf Dome, part of the Sportsplex at Turning Stone.

“You are trying to feel the difference in the swings, and what the ball is doing,” explained instructor Alissa Staub, lead coach, First Tee. She demonstrated different ways to hold the club creating the letter “L” for a higher shot and the letter “Y” for a lower chip shot. “Use these reference points. You can then measure how much club (to use), length of motion, and force or speed of the club.”

Taking a break from the action, third-year student Jorgia Belewich said overall she thinks the First Tee is a great program. “I like learning about distance control, how far you have to hit the ball to be accurate,” she said, and added. “I do like the putting. What’s frustrating is when you hit the ball with the end of the tip of your club. Then it doesn’t go the way you want it to. You want to fix it, but you can’t. But I try to just take it as a game and not get frustrated with everything. You can just fix it next time.”

For Carson Dockstader participation in this program will give him the opportunity to play with his grandfather and share time on the greens with his friends. “The program is awesome,” Carson said. “It’s really fun. I get to play on the course.”

The program ended the week that Summer Jam came to a close. Successful first-year students, like Rhys, will receive clubs during a ceremony in September while returning students will receive vouchers for lessons or rounds of golf.