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3 decades of helping kids learn golf lands Las Vegan in Hall of Fame

Jim Hart gets emotional when he talks about his passion. And even though it revolves around golf, the feelings come from a place far away from the game.

The people who know and have worked with Hart over the past three decades could say the same thing. Yes, he has taught hundreds, even thousands of kids the fundamentals of golf during his weekly free sessions. But it’s the life lessons and experiences that are part of the sessions on the range that matter the most

Hart is among five men who will be inducted into the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame on Oct. 7 during an annual event at TPC Summerlin that marks the start of the Shriners Children’s Open week.

Hart is proud of everything he has accomplished through the years, but the Hall of Fame induction is vindication that others have noticed as well.

“It just makes you feel good realizing that other people realize it’s good, too,” he said. “That’s the real thing. I enjoy what I do and so, like I told my wife, I’m gonna do it as long as I can can.”

What Hart, 66, does is teach golf to kids ages 6 and older for free every Thursday night at Las Vegas Golf Club. He did it first as a volunteer before becoming executive director of the Southern Nevada Inner-City Youth Golf Association, then with the First Tee and the Hart Academy of Golf.

The kids learn to hit balls on the driving range and, as they progress, eventually make it out on to the course for a hole or two. All of the equipment is provided, and there’s no fee or mandatory attendance to take part. All are welcome every Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

“When they are available to come, they can come and they can pick up where they left off,” Hart said. “Because this is about them learning the game and being able to strike the ball and play the game. They don’t have the fear of, ‘Oh, I missed three classes, so I’ve missed everything.’ Wherever they are when they come back to us, we pick up with them at that point.”

Golf, Hart said, is secondary in many cases.

“Golf is just the tool to bring them to the program,” he said. “We talk about school. We talk about other things. Kids come from all over town, so they get to engage with kids on a level they probably don’t do anywhere else.”

Hart pairs players into different groups each week and gives them a topic to discuss and gets them to listen and learn about their fellow players. He also preaches the idea of opportunity and being ready to seize it whenever and wherever it comes.

Hart’s love for the game came from his dad, an excellent player in the Chicago area.

“He actually had a sponsor to try to play professionally, but the family said to him there’s no Black golfers out there making any money,” Hart recalled.

Because of that subtext, launching his program and having his father see it evolve is one of Hart’s greatest joys. And to share the game with his father, who lived to 100, is something Hart will treasure.

Thoughts of his dad and the countless kids who have been through his program will be circling through Hart’s mind on his induction night. He’s grateful to the Hall for recognizing golf is more than just for those who excel on the course.

“Being selected wasn’t anything that was on my radar, but I was really happy to hear it,” he said. “I liked that it wasn’t based on my ability to play or anything like that. It was my contribution to the community and golf here in Las Vegas.”

Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review Journal. Reach him at grobertson@reviewjournal.com.

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