Tee Time

Lee High School dropped football, deciding golf was a better sport for its kids, no matter how poor or new to this country they might be

At five o'clock on an October afternoon it's still in the 80s. The four students who showed up for the Tuesday practice complain about the heat.

"This is actually perfect weather for golf," the coach says. "You don't want to have a lot of wind -- it'll mess up your game."

Lee's home green is the Sharpstown Golf Course, which looks like a rundown city park with yellow paint chipping off the curb. A man in the pro shop says it's the flattest course in town -- which makes it easier to walk. Behind the shop is a bowling alley-style snack bar that serves hot dogs, hamburgers, granola bars and Gatorade. The course is about four miles from the school. Justin Records usually rides to practice with the coach. The others carpool together, usually stopping at CiCi's Pizza for a prepractice snack.

Lashay Howard was in coach Ryan Rhodes's math class last year.
Daniel Kramer
Lashay Howard was in coach Ryan Rhodes's math class last year.
Driving the cart is Justin Anderson's favorite part of the game.
Daniel Kramer
Driving the cart is Justin Anderson's favorite part of the game.

The Sharpstown Country Club Golf Course was built in the 1950s. It had 50 sand traps, special grass and five lakes stocked with bass and perch. The $50,000 Houston Golf Classic was played at Sharpstown in April 1964. The country club closed in 1976 because the owners hadn't made a payment on the $5 million mortgage in five years. Two years later, the city bought about two-thirds of the course; the rest was sold to real estate developers. Iron-fenced backyards with occasional rose bushes edge the course.

Old pecans, live oak and scrubby pine trees grow on the putting green. The coach likes to start the season practicing putting. Since students are so close to the hole, they have a better chance of getting the ball in. Plus, playing on the putting green is free. There's a fee to play on the course. The students don't receive their passes to play on the green until November, the beginning of golf's off season, Rhodes says.

The coach tells the students to grab a putter out of his black golf bag. He takes a ball and demonstrates. It makes it about only halfway to the hole. "See," he says, "it's hard."

Rhodes started playing golf with his dad when he was ten. He grew up in Greenville, about 45 minutes northeast of Dallas. "I'm an amateur golfer," Rhodes says. "I have plenty of problems with my golf game."

He tells students to keep their left arm straight, an eye on the ball, not to sway their hips. With beginning golfers, he just emphasizes making contact with the ball.

"It's not like tennis or basketball or anything where you have an opponent affecting what you do," Rhodes says. "No one's hitting the ball back at you when you play golf. You just hit the ball again."

Dragonflies flit over the green. Overhead, traffic choppers fly toward the Southwest Freeway. Justin Anderson sits on the grass cross-legged. He bought a cell phone the day before; he calls teammates who didn't show up for practice. Then he phones the player standing two feet in front of him trying to putt.

The cell is his business phone, he says. Anderson calls himself a young entrepreneur. When his best friend calls, he refers to him as his business partner. The two started a recording, voice-over company two years ago.

He's known as the speaking voice of Lee High School. He does the morning announcements and charges teachers $35 an hour to put together voice and music commercials advertising upcoming school events. People tell him that he sounds like the announcer on KRBE.

Anderson runs cross-country, hurls shot put and was on the wrestling team for two weeks. He quit wrestling when he was elected junior class treasurer. He stayed on the golf team because he wants to be a businessman, and golf is something businesspeople do.

His parents divorced when he was two. He and his mom live with his Puerto Rican grandmother and his Cajun grandfather, a retired geophysicist. He's also part Cherokee, he says.

Anderson first went golfing a few years ago with his uncle, a chemical engineer in Colorado. Driving the golf cart was his favorite part, he says. "And it still is."

Justin Pineset grew up in the Third Ward and hung out with gangs. In elementary school, he says, he had a "behavior problem" and acted out and swore all the time. Now, he speaks in a soft, measured voice. He smiles and greets everyone who walks into the school office. When the special education class walks by, they all pound on the window and smile and wave at him. One student runs into the office and gives Pineset a big hug. He knows all the special ed kids' names.

The seventh of ten children, Pineset wants to have 13 kids of his own. He says he and his mother moved around every few months. One of his sisters is in the army, he has a brother in the air force, and another brother is incarcerated -- he doesn't know why.

Sitting in the school's main office, he says he's trying to figure out how he can pay the health insurance fee to make himself eligible for the golf team. School, he says, is the only thing he looks forward to.

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