By David Droshak
Sports can be full cynicism these days, and golf is not immune. There are cheating scandals, slow play controversies, on course rages, and on and on. So, when a feel-good story comes along embrace it. The following is one of those feel-good stories right in our own backyard.
Tyler Spriggs swung her first golf club at Knights Play Golf Center in Apex wearing a red and white Hello Kitty shirt, jeans and her favorite blue and white tennis shoes. At less than 4-feet tall, the 6-year-old carried her kid-size starter clubs and beginner bag holding great expectations for herself.
She is now one of the few females of color playing high school golf across North Carolina thanks in large part to her parent’s support and the Triangle Women In Golf (TWIG) KIDZ Program.
“Tyler just fit right in,” says Valerie Willis, who coordinates TWIG KIDZ partnership opportunities, golf clinics, and mentorship and social activities. “Now that she’s older, we can always count on her to help mentor the younger girls as well as show them what you can accomplish with hard work, determination and a positive attitude.”
TWIG was founded in 1997 and the KIDZ Program followed four years later. The KIDZ Program focuses on introducing and supporting African-American girls (ages 8 to 18) interested in learning and enjoying golf.
“We started the program thinking that we would try and introduce it to kids who wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to play, so we targeted at-risk kids at the Garner Road YMCA,” said TWIG president Renée Allain-Stockton. “The program ran in that direction for about 3-4 and then we realized that golf is such a time-consuming sport we switched the target to members of TWIG and friends who had girls who were interested in learning the game. We switched to an application process and we’ve had some girls in the program for eight years now.
“We’re so pleased we’ve been able to get these girls into the program at an early game and now get them into single digit handicaps while most of us are still struggling with handicaps in the 20s,” she added. “To see them blossom over the years is the most rewarding part of it. We have found girls who are passionate about the game and offer them the lessons, the support and the exposure to be able to play with other women who love the game as well, so it becomes a lifetime sport for them.”
There are approximately 50 members in TWIG and 12-15 youths in the KIDZ Program.
“The TWIG ladies go above and beyond to support Tyler and all of the TWIG KIDZ participants,” said Perdita Spriggs, Tyler’s mother. “They inspire the girls both on and off the course with active professional and community endeavors underscoring that dreams are possible, especially when you incorporate the First Tee Nine Core Values – integrity, honesty, responsibility, confidence, respect, sportsmanship, perseverance, courtesy and judgment – into your daily life and believe in yourself,”
Through the organization’s partnership with North Carolina State University’s Lonnie Poole Golf youth program, Willis “recognized Tyler was ready to learn another aspect of golf” and approached TWIG KIDZ youth golf coach Scott Clagg and asked if Tyler could help train the younger TWIG girls during their golf lessons. He agreed, and learning how to coach golf is offering Tyler a new perspective and adding value to her golf portfolio.
“I really enjoy participating in TWIG KIDZ,” says Tyler, an A-B honor roll student at Green Hope High School in Cary. “I’ve made some really good friends through the program, and the TWIG ladies are extremely nice, supportive and truly interested in my academic and golf achievements.”
This past season as a ninth-grader at Green Hope, she posted 18-hole scores in the high 70s to help her team win the Triangle-8 Conference title and runner-up finish in the 4-A regional championship. Tyler was selected First Team All-Conference.
“I’m just amazed and so proud when I watch her play,” says her dad Richard, an avid golfer himself who has caddied by Tyler’s side or cheered from the cart path, dedicating countless hours to practice and tournaments. “Tyler is more than my playing partner. She’s developing into a remarkable, all-around junior golfer and young woman. I know that golf will be a part of her life forever.”