Pinellas County PAL Golf Program Making a Difference

Terry O'Reilly (left) instructs one of his studentsPALM HARBOR - Terry O'Reilly loves being a mentor, probably even more than he does being a Pinellas County Sheriff's Deputy.

But what he really loves is being on the course, teaching junior golfers the ins and outs of the game he loves and has played for years. That's the reason he's run the Pinellas Sheriff's PAL golf program for the past five years. The 27th-year deputy makes sure kids as young as eight have a place to play and learn the game of golf.

"We figure if we can keep kids busy using golf and teach them life skills," O'Reilly said, "it (will) help them see life in a different light and help teenagers stay out of other areas of life they shouldn't be getting into.

"It's a game of honesty and integrity, so what more can you ask for to teach kids of high integrity and honesty," O'Reilly added.

This PAL program makes its home at Airco Golf Course in Clearwater, but also plays and practices at Brooker Creek in Palm Harbor and Wentworth Golf Course in Tarpon Springs. The team normally plays twice a week (Wednesdays and Saturdays) and tries to have a least two nine-hole tournaments per week.

However, O'Reilly and company also enforce learning the rules and golf etiquette, which includes giving the 10-15 young golfers written and verbal tests, as well. PAL also has child/adult golf outings where a parent or guadarin plays with the athlete. O'Reilly even sets up field trips to local tournaments in the bay area and trips to play other courses, such as Southern Hills Plantation in Brooksville.

PAL golfers warm-up on the range

"You can watch their maturity level and there's a lot of idle time with no distractions and that helps the kids open up and sometimes were able to help them work through difficult situations," O'Reilly said.

O'Reilly's son even went through program, which is run with the help of grant moneys received from people purchasing the Florida: Golf Captial of the World license plates. That money helps with equipment and some course fees, however, PAL and O'Reilly make sure each child has an opportunity to golf.

"No child is turned away," said O'Reilly, who is also the East Lake High golf coach. "Courses have been very accommodating to make sure all the kids can get a chance to play."

PAL has come in quite handy this school year, according to O'Reilly, because Pinellas County changed school hours on Wednesdays. Those days, kids get out at 12:07 p.m., meaning parents who work can't either get their kids or be home with them.

So O'Reilly has made sure these young golfers can get out on the course right away, and either practice or play until their parents get off work.

Which, for O'Reilly, is just fine. He loves getting the chance to spend time with young golfers, and make a difference with the young boy or girl, even if they don't shoot six-under par. In the end, it's all about being there for the kids and giving them the necessary tools to encourage good choices in life.

"We try to mentor the kids, which is a great experience," O'Reilly said. "It's nice to have a coach that they can call and he or she is just not all about pressuring the kids to win. All these kids have my cell number and (they know) that there is an avenue for them to reach out just in case they need someone. We're here for the kids."

Mike Camunas can be reached at mike.camunas@gmail.com

 

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