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A way through the rough

By Christina Macfarlane, CNN
  • Midnight golf provides an alternative street life for kids in Detroit and Miami
  • Since 2001, 615 students have participated in the program
  • Last month the PGA of America, donated $10,000 to the program
  • PGA Tour

London, England -- Golf has always had the ability to inspire players and fans alike, but now the sport's motivational qualities are being used to attract and help those on the fringes of the game.

The mean streets of Detroit may not be the first place you would imagine to find budding students of the sport, but from this Michigan base, single mum Renee Fluker hopes to transform the fortunes of deprived, inner-city children across America with the power of golf.

In 2001, with the help of volunteer professionals from the PGA and the world of business, Fluker launched "Midnight Golf" -- a project that provides free "night classes" at two courses in Detroit for young adults between the ages of 17 to 22.

By attending twice a week the pupils get the opportunity to be coached by a registered PGA pro on the course, as well as attend classes to learn new skills such as business etiquette, creative writing and public speaking off the fairway.

The program's ultimate aim was to help their students get into college or secure long-term employment -- a much needed service in light of statistics from the American Promise Alliance which show that graduation rate in Detroit is under 40 percent while the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) estimate that nearly half of Detroit's working-age population are unemployed.

Since the start of the project 615 students have participated in the Midnight Golf program with 351 are now attending 60 different colleges throughout the United States.

Renee explains why the program has been important: "Some of these teenagers were on welfare or from single parent homes and couldn't afford to play golf. The most important thing was that they worked together peer-to-peer doing something they enjoyed and [that would help to] prepare them for the future."

Shakyra Stanfield, 26, took part in the Midnight Golf program when she was 18 and graduated as a nurse from Howard University two years ago. She told CNN: "The Midnight golf program gave me that push to go out and achieve my goals. It became almost like family. We did everything together."

The Midnight golf program gave me that push to go out and achieve my goals. It became almost like family, we did everything together.
--Shakyra Stanfield

The program also taught her to pick up a club and play: "People said golf was geeky, but once I tried it, I got very competitive and used to practice every day - It became a real hobby. We were lucky to have the professionals to teach us."

Last month a new Midnight Golf program opened in Miami, pioneered by a Marqus Fisher who saw what Renee was trying to achieve and decided to do the same:

"I was watching a golf tournament on TV where they featured different program's throughout the country. Renee came on and said "if you have dedicated people, you can open Midnight Golf in every state"...I thought, I could do that."

And Miami is not the only program underway - there are plans to open in Chicago, Illinois and Indiana over the coming months. Renee thinks it can only get bigger.

"People are calling like crazy; everyone wants to start a program." And with a recent donation of $10,000 from The PGA of America, it looks like Midnight Golf is set to flourish.