Posted July 3, 2024 in Featured News

A state-of-the-art golf simulator is located in the basement of 110-year-old First Westminster Presbyterian Church in Steubenville, OH, a new golf ministry that is bringing a new crop of people to the church grounds.

There’s something about the game of golf that can bring people together. No, the sport is not for everyone, but for those who enjoy golf, it can be as much a social experience as an athletic one.

This in a nutshell is why the First Westminster Presbyterian Church of Steubenville, OH, has decided to bring the game of golf in the form of a golf simulator to its campus. It’s an activity that fits any age and one that can unite a congregation and, in fact, a whole community, while also providing life lessons and an important skill.

“Golf is that lifelong sport,” said Jason Elliott, the pastor at First Westminster. “For these kids, whether they play competitive golf or don’t, it’s OK. But they may end up being a CPA in a major accounting firm somewhere, and if they find out that she can golf, let me tell you something, that really aids to the upward mobility of that individual.”

The simulator is bringing in steady streams of youth to the church’s basement to test their skills to drive, chip and putt. The golf ministry is part of First Westminster’s EDGE Sports Ministry, which stands for “Education + Determination + God = Excellence.”

“The mission of the EDGE program is to build Christian values through competitive sports,” Jason said. “Some of the core values are humility – how do you handle winning and losing – responsibility, respect and honesty. We wrote a handbook to tether back to scripture and then use those lessons with chaplains that come in. We want to really drive home those core values with the kids.

“The sports are the hooks to plant the seeds and build relationships with the kids and the families and to really build those core values.”

The outreach also includes basketball, which annually reaches 400 children in the Steubenville area and more than 1,500 total people including parents and grandparents. The basketball program has been running at the church for the past decade.

“When we began to really look at using a sports ministry to reach out to kids and families with Christian core values, it was interesting that at the very onset of basketball, we looked really hard at golf,” Jason recalled. “But the technology as far as golf simulators, even 10 years ago, was lacking. It wasn’t as readily available as it is now.

“We were having a hard time showing up to a golf course with 40 or 50 kids that don’t know how to swing a club. It can create a ton of confusion. It was hard for us to find practice venues, so we put it on the back burner.”

The golf simulator is in part the brainchild of Jeff Myers, a member of the church who was a golf course architect and designed courses around the world. Jeff was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the simulator, conversations for which began in the spring of 2023. Unfortunately, he passed away due to complications from Parkinson’s Disease several months later. He never saw the golf simulator, which opened at the start of 2024, in full use. It is named the Jeffrey C. Myers Golf Simulator in his honor.

Young golfers receive a certificate for completing a golf ministry program at First Westminster Church in Steubenville, OH.

The top-of-the-line simulator is a unique activity. A golfer stands in front of a screen that shows a golf hole. The golfer hits a shot into the screen, and the speed, spin and trajectory of the shot is measured through radar, with the flight of the ball shown on the screen as if it was hit at that actual location. A golfer can “play” any one of thousands of courses around the world, from Pebble Beach in California to Augusta National, the home of the Masters, to any one of the British Open courses in England.

The simulator also has other game variations. For instance, for those who want to test their skill at something other than golf, a video-game type of setting can be activated, where a shot (still taken with a club and ball) will land in a junkyard, setting off an explosion with points being collected for targets hit. This allows for people who are not interested in golf to still be able to enjoy the simulator through a different activity.

“It’s an incredible teaching tool, but it’s also an incredible fellowship tool,” Jason said. “If you have kids that are just beginning, the simulator has video games that are golf based. Part of the challenge of golf is keeping kids engaged. In this case the video game keeps the kids engaged.

“There are three-sport athletes that are coming to play, and kids that are struggling to find their way in athletics that are coming to play and finding a passion in golf. It’s just beautiful.”

The first EDGE Golf Academy in the spring of 2024 saw children ages 6-12 utilize the video game function of the simulator, with 35 youth participating. At $50 for an eight-week program, which includes a polo shirt and clubs to use, it’s both fun and affordable for those children.

“We have four kids at a time, with three or four coaches, so it’s really a one-on-one where we get to impact and disciple the kids and teach them about golf, but then you can really double down on the character values,” Jason said. “Those Christian values go hand-in-hand with the etiquette of golf.”

As word spread of the simulator, local high school and college teams reached out to the church about using it as a practice tool during the colder months. It provides another avenue for the church to share its ministry and was used roughly 100 hours per month during the peak winter season.

“We’ve kept our rates down to where we can maintain it, but we’re not in this thing to make money,” Jason said. “We’re in it to build disciples of Jesus Christ. We’re building community, and it’s just so fun to watch it happen.”

According to Jason, First Westminster is one of two churches in the world to have a golf simulator in its building. The other is near Indianapolis, but that church is located in a shopping plaza and does not use it as an outreach but simply as an entertainment piece. That makes the ministry in Steubenville all that more special.

“It’s been unbelievable to watch it grow,” Jason said. “I’m surprised at the quality of the relationships. With the basketball, we’ve always had the numbers, but with the golf, it’s one-on-one. It’s a little different concept. It’s not my team trying to beat your team. With these foursomes, the bond that the kids create with one another, and also the bond that the mentors and coaches create with the kids, is just unbelievable.”

The instructors for the simulators range from church members to golf enthusiasts from around the community.

“It’s somebody that understands the character and competition that we preach at EDGE,” Jason said of the coaches. “We want the kids to compete and do their very best but to do so with the utmost character, and so those coaches reflect those values and understand that this is about golf, but this is also about life and living out your faith.”

To think an unused room in the basement of a 110-year-old church building could be renovated with volunteer labor and utilized in this way still makes Jason shake his head in disbelief.

“Our vision is for it to become a hub of relationships,” Jason said. “To watch the Holy Spirit work through relationships – it’s unbelievable how doors open. To watch the relationships fall into place, it as pretty evident that God had his hand through all of this. Ministry is about relationships and to watch this hook of golf bring those relationships together with God’s hand has been awesome.”