By JOHN REITMAN
Whether it was during all those years he spent hovering over a dentist’s chair or organizing youth golf tournaments, Dr. Charles Spragg has sent many children in Hancock County home in tears during the past four-plus decades. And he’s loved every minute of it.
Spragg, 74, put down his drill four years ago after a 45-year career as a dentist that began in the U.S. Army in 1965. But he hasn’t been as quick to relinquish his duties as president of the Findlay Area Golf Association, which is celebrating its 40th year of bringing competitive golf to local youth.
He, along with his dental partner Dr. Jack Winters, Bill Fitzgerald, Jerry Quinlan and a few others got together in 1975 with the idea of starting a golf league for local amateur players of all ages. During the inaugural meeting, Spragg was elected by his peers as the association’s first president.
There hasn’t been another election since.
“My office must not have been very busy in 1975,” said Spragg, who is known throughout FAGA simply as “Doc Spragg.”
“I always tried to be gentle in the dental chair, but I did give kids a lecture that they needed to get outside and do something.”
Now limited to youth play, FAGA has provided an avenue to golf for hundreds of children through the years. The association promotes life skills such as sportsmanship, integrity, honesty and respect. Hard work and perseverance are rewarded with player of the year and sportsmanship awards as well as scholarship assistance for graduating high school seniors who have played in the system for at least three years.
Former FAGA participants include Doug Martin, who played on the PGA Tour and is currently head men’s golf coach at the University of Cincinnati, ex-University of Michigan women’s coach Cheryl Stacy and Findlay Country Club head pro Jordan Schroeder.
“My greatest reward was that we started something that has survived for 40 years,” Spragg said. “We’ve had some of the greatest kids you could ever want. It’s been rewarding to watch them play, go on to college and succeed in their lives. It’s always a reward when you see young people succeed.”
Schroeder was the recipient of the association’s Dr. Charles Spragg Male Player of the Year Award in 1999. Two years later, he received the Walt Whithaus Male Sportsmanship Award, which is named for the local Pizza Hut restaurateur and longtime supporter of youth golf. When handing out credit for those who helped shape his career in golf, Schroeder defers to Spragg.
“Dr. Spragg has been a long time contributor to the development of many junior players in the area, including myself. He has donated his time over the years guiding the kids and helping them become the people they are today,” Schroeder said. “As a former FAGA Sportsman of the Year and Player of the Year, FAGA gave me the opportunity to compete at local golf courses, develop my skills, and have fun playing golf with my friends. I truly thank him for all of the time, work, and effort he has put in for junior golf in the Findlay area.”
FAGA initially was started as a way to promote the game to players of all ages, but organizers soon realized the association’s future was in promoting the game to children. Each year, the association conducts 10 tournaments at local courses, with boys and girls players separated by age rather than a USGA index, followed by a season-ending championship at Findlay Country Club. Registration fees are $30 for the year, with tournament fees of $16 per player for 18 holes and $14 for nine holes (for younger players), including a hotdog and drink.
The program has been equally economical for local sponsors who are asked to pay $300 each, the same fee they paid in FAGA’s inaugural year of 1975, to help keep the association afloat.
A native of Bridgeport, Spragg graduated from Ohio State’s dental school in 1965 and joined the Army soon after. He spent four years and two months in the service, including three years at a military hospital in Germany. He says he learned a lifetime of dentistry in those four-plus years. It was during his last year of dental school at Ohio State that he learned an appreciation for golf.
Recently named director of golf and head coach of the boys team at Findlay High School, Spragg and wife Phyllis now split time between Findlay and Bradenton, Fla. He has played nearly 100 rounds already this year, and counts trips to Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, Pebble Beach Golf Links along California’s central coast and Olympia Fields Country Club near Chicago among his most cherished playing experiences.
“My wife doesn’t ask me anymore ‘if’ I’m playing,” Spragg said. “She asks when is my next tee time.”
As it turns out, the FAGA concept was popular locally long before it became a national trend to introduce children to golf.
One of the benefits of the game is the lessons it teaches about honesty, integrity and self-control, all of which Spragg and others associated with FAGA, have imparted on local youth golfers. Those same lessons also are promoted by The First Tee, a nationwide, non-profit program started 22 years after FAGA by the PGA Tour, PGA of America, LPGA, U.S. Golf Association and Augusta National Golf Club. The First Tee says it has since brought the game to more than 9 million children across the country.
“We were running tournaments long before The First Tee ever became a concept,” Spragg said. “Obviously, there is a need, because of the turnouts we’ve gotten.”
Some years have been better than others where participation is concerned.
In the early days, there were as many as 90 participants in a tournament, forcing Spragg to spread events into a two-day format to accommodate so many players. Nowadays, FAGA is plagued by some of the same issues afflicting the golf business as a whole.
According to the National Golf Foundation, there were 29.8 million golfers in 2002. That number dropped to 24.1 million last year, says NGF, and is projected to be around 23 million in 2014. While early FAGA tournaments were on the brink of 100 players, today tournaments boast 30 to 40 participants as golf clubs take a back seat to travel sports leagues, video games and other distractions.
Those who come out to play each week do so, Spragg says, for the love of the game.
“You’ll see some kids who’ve just taken up the game come out and shoot 140 or 150 over 18 holes, but they don’t quit,” Spragg said. “The next week, there they are again, trying to get better. To me, that is the best reward of all, to keep them involved in doing something positive and trying harder each week.”
Although numbers are down at local youth golf tournaments, some believe interest in the game among local youth might be even lower if not for the efforts of Spragg and others to make sure they have somewhere to play each week.
“Without the efforts of Dr. Spragg, we would not have the quality of players and the interest level in junior golf in the Findlay/Hancock County area,” said Chad Bain, director of golf, membership and marketing at Findlay Country Club.
“He has been a critical component to the development of players.”
John Reitman is director of news, editorial and education for TurfNet.com, a news and information service for golf course superintendents. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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