BELLEVILLE, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. announced the opening of The First Tee Learning Center at Hendricks Field Golf Course in Belleville on Wednesday, June 15. The new facility, designed specifically for youth, includes a three-hole practice course and 4,000-square-foot building that enables the program to operate year-round. The First Tee is a nationally recognized youth development program that uses the game of golf to help youth develop leadership skills, learn life lessons and prepare players academically for higher education. The learning center at Hendricks Field is the second First Tee location in Essex; the first opened at Weequahic Golf Course in Newark in 2005.
“The First Tee has been a tremendous asset at Weequahic Park, teaching the game of golf to new generations of young people and preparing them for higher education and life’s challenges. Expanding our partnership to Hendricks Field is a wonderful opportunity to provide enriching recreational alternatives to another area of our county and enable more young people to take advantage of it,” DiVincenzo said.
“We all know that recreation programs save lives and the more we engage children in programs like these the greater the outcomes will be. This is about inclusivity and it’s wonderful that we have this here in public space,” NJ Senate Majority Leader and Deputy Chief of Staff M. Teresa Ruiz said.
“This facility and The First Tee program give children access to a sport they otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate in. This is wonderful as a recreation program, but it’s something our children will be able to benefit from personally,” Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin said.
“We are elated about what you are doing here. To have this kind of access for our children right here in Belleville is something special and shows how much Essex County and the county executive are investing in our children,” Belleville Mayor Michael Melham said.
“This facility has really exceeded all my expectations. First Tee teaches children about the game of golf, but it does a lot more in preparing them for their future,” said Gene Bernstein, chairperson of The First Tee of Metropolitan New Jersey.
“We are so elated about this facility. I want to thank the county executive for making this opportunity available,” said Tom Grant, director of The First Tee program at Hendricks Field. He noted that there are already more than 150 children enrolled in First Tee programs at Hendricks.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for youth. It’s a perfect day,” NJ State Golf Association Executive Director Michael McFadden said.
“I was at Weequahic when the county executive opened The First Tee program there and I’m proud that I’m able to be here at Hendricks Field for this opening too. This is really special because this program is more than just golf. It’s really about preparing children for life,” retired Major League Baseball player Rick Cerone said.
The First Tee Learning Center at Hendricks Field will have a 4,000-square-foot building that has indoor and outdoor practice areas, a classroom for STEM instruction, offices, restrooms and storage space. Two golf training rooms have garage doors that can be opened so students can stand indoors and hit balls out of the building during inclement or cold weather. There is a third outdoor training area that has a covered hitting area. This also allows programs to be offered year-round. The classroom space will enable a STEM Summer Academy, tutoring and SAT prep activities to be offered.
There is also a three-hole short course that includes three practice holes ranging in length from 50 to 160 yards. One of the holes is designed in the shape of a Biarritz, which has a larger green area in line with the classical design of the Hendricks course. This green will be an excellent teaching area where 10 to 12 students can be lined up for chipping practice.
A new entry point for The First Tee program has been created on Joralemon Street in Belleville, just a short distance from the Belleville Recreation Department building. A small parking lot to accommodate First Tee participants and their parents accommodates approximately 15 cars.
The First Tee currently enrolls more than 600 youth annually in its program at Weequahic Golf Course in Newark.
The First Tee hired Rogers McCagg, a Connecticut-based architectural firm that specializes in golf course facilities, to design the facility. APS Contracting Inc. from Paterson was awarded a publicly bid contract for $1,987,000 to build the learning facility. The county funded the construction of the clubhouse with a grant received from the NJ Department of Community Affairs.