Chase Epting addressed the ball, took his swing and his club sent the ball down the fairway. Then he ran to first base.
Those two sentences might seem to mix two sports, but that's exactly what golf baseball does. On Saturday, a group from the First Tee of Aiken gathered on the No. 1 fairway on the Laurel nine at Houndslake Country Club to take part in the sport, which First Tee program director Lexie Brent said originated as a way to get school-aged children started in golf.
“The game was actually invented by the First Tee home office as part of the National School Program,” she said during the three-team tournament.
Using Starting New at Golf equipment – which consists of plastic clubs with oversized heads, tennis balls and a velcro-covered target – the sport is played under similar rules as regular baseball. The ball isn't pitched, with the batter teeing off from a driving range-style mat. Outs can be recorded if the ball is caught in the air, or if runners are off-base when a fielder throws the ball to the target, held by a player standing where the pitcher's mound would be.
Brent said the game has become a favorite, even among the program's students that are trying to learn traditional golf.
“This is the first time we've done it in a tournament, but we do it once a session, every session,” she said.
Lindsey Greene, 10, said that she enjoyed the game because “it's challenging” but also said that the exercise component of baseball golf was fun.
“You get to run because you don't usually get to run in regular golf,” she said.
Greene primarily served as a pinch runner for her father, Jeremy, who hadn't worn proper footwear to run the bases, which were hula hoops. The three competing teams consisted of adults and kids alike, and even the older participants enjoy the chance to use the SNAG gear, according to Brent.
“I think the bigger kids using the funny equipment is a big draw,” she said.
The gear is in use in area elementary schools, where the cost of regular golf equipment and the available space would render traditional golf impractical. Instead, younger students can learn the basic principles of golf through a fun, competitive game that has rules they use for other sports.
“It introduces golf in a non-golf setting,” Brent said.
The First Tee of Aiken teaches a variety of age and skill levels through eight-week sessions, with the fall sessions set to begin in September.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.