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Lucas Cohen: A driving force in youth golf

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Playground Golf Foundation president and founder Lucas Cohen works with a Germantown student on his swing during one of his teaching sessions at the school last week.
May 15, 2018 10:00 pm Updated: May 16, 2018 07:22 pm

Nearly seven years ago Hudson golf coach Lucas Cohen bought and developed the New York Golf Park. He started giving lessons immediately, but always aspired to grow the game locally.

Last week, Cohen, with his Starting New at Golf (SNAG) equipment in tote, traveled to Germantown for the fourth time educating the students in the school district on the game, along with the nine core values of golf.

Cohen has not only traveled to Germantown, but several other schools over the course of the last several years.

“A group of people that I give lessons to and work with were like, ‘Lucas this is great what you do, but if you start a foundation it could really grow into something,’” Cohen said. “I’ve always wanted to grow the game and now the foundation has an opportunity to do that, but also make good kids.”

The suggestion led to the creation of the Playground Golf Foundation, which Cohen is the president and founder of.

The foundation’s purpose is to bring the game of golf to youngsters, including those that are underprivileged, have a disability, or are terminally ill.

Cohen states that the introduction of the game to the students will impact them by providing educational programs delivered by PGA and First Tee professionals during school hours. The in-class activities teach students the nine core values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgement.

Cohen’s intial goals with the Playground Golf Foundation were to work with Physical Education teachers on how to teach golf effectively and safely to children, effectively utilizing the PGA professional and the host facility as a major resource in exposing juniors to the game of golf and green grass facilities, and to provide necessary equipment (SNAG) and introduce the game.

Cohen’s first goal is something he is particularly proud of given how receptive the gym teachers have been to what he is presenting them with.

“They’ve been super receptive. With going into schools, the teachers love it, but they’re not golf professionals so it’s kind of hard to teach a game as tactical as that. But I have a really simple curriculum that they can follow and they love it,” Cohen said.

Cohen helps teachers familiarize themselves with the SNAG equipment, so during the winter months he can feel comfortable loaning them the equipment so they can teach the curriculum for 3-4 weeks.

The equipment is close to $5,000, but it teaches a class of 30 students. It includes 200 SNAG balls, which are velcro tennis balls, velcro targets, amongst a variety of other tools to allow the students to learn how to drive, chip and putt. The equipment allows the instructor to set up a miniature golf course for putting, a chipping/pitching station and a driving station.

The SNAG equipment also helps with Cohen’s simple curriculum to make the game fun and easy to comprehend for the students.

For driving, Cohen teaches the students that it is a shoulder-to-shoulder swing; for chipping it’s knee high-to-knee high; and putting is toe-to-toe.

With a game as complex as golf, with a lot of verbiage, Cohen wants to make it seem easy for the students and teachers once he leaves.

“The ultimate goal of the Playground Golf Foundation is to develop awareness and raise enough money so that we can establish the First Tee of the Hudson Valley and, that way, I can hire other golf professionals and coaches to teach at numerous schools,” Cohen said.

First Tee, which was created in 1997, is an organization that provides programs that introduce kids to the game of golf, teach the First Tee’s Nine Core Values, and positively impacts their lives.

First Tee manages 150 chapters at more than 1,200 golf courses nationally.

For Cohen, it’s more than just teaching kids golf now, but also about instilling the First Tee’s nine core values in the kids that he works with when he visits these schools.

When Cohen traveled to the Catskill School District two weeks ago, the kids realized that the Hudson golf coach was there for more than just teaching them about how to play golf.

“I went to Catskill and we talked about sportsmanship and I did that with all of the classes for two days, so they got the core value of sportsmanship. The second go around when I saw them last week, we talked ahout repsect,” cohen said. “Watching them think and hear the things that they said, it makes me feel good and it really makes me feel like the foundation is much more than teaching the kids how to play golf.”

For Cohen, volunteering his time year-after-year to different schools is invaluable and means everything to someone who has been playing the game since three years old.

“I ask them, ‘How many of you actually played golf before?’ and of course a lot of them raise their hands, but then I ask, ‘How many of you have played 10 times?’ Most of their hands go down. So knowing that for the majority of them it is their first exposure to the game that I love, the hair on my arm stands up,” he explained. “It makes me feel like I am doing something good in the world. I get choked up about it, I love it, I feel like I have a real purpose in life.”

Moving forward with the Playground Golf Foundation, over the next five years, Cohen hopes to have raised $200,000, which is what is necessary to have in the bank to become a Hudson Valley First Tee chapter.

The hope is not only to have the money in the bank to pay instructors and directors to run the programs, but have the money to provide the SNAG equipment for every school and provide training to coaches.

Cohen will get to $200,000 via various fundraisers he has set up going into mid-September.

On April 27, Cohen set up a Cocktails for a Cause, which allowed people to donate to the Playground Golf Foundation.

On Friday, he has the annual Charity Golf Tournament at the Copake Country Club to benefit the foundation.

“The ultimate goal in five yers is to have a first tee Hudson Valley where that I can employ 5-10 people to help achieve the goals and the missions of the foundation,” Cohen said. “I know that is a big number, but First Tee wants you to have that much in the bank because you need to fundraise in order to provide the program, and provide transportation. It could even get to the point where we are giving scholarships to kids that are hard working and have gone through these programs.”