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In a roundabout way Stevens's soft spot for kids is what led to the creation of the driving range. About a dozen years ago he overheard a high school golf coach at one of Philadelphia's municipal courses giving bad instruction to some students. He took the man aside and told him that the young players wouldn't advance with what he was telling them. One thing led to the next, and within a couple of weeks the members of the Long Knockers Golf Club had begun tutoring a couple of dozen inner-city high school golfers.
They also provided them with gear and golf clothes, because, as Stevens said, "They were looking awfully raggedy. They weren't looking like black guys are supposed to look on the course."
What the Long Knockers club lacked was a place to teach the young players, so in 1979 the club members persuaded the city to let them restore an abandoned driving range in the park.
"Our original purpose was to teach poor black kids the game of golf, because we had found it to be a helluva lot of fun and we wanted to give others that same opportunity," Stevens says. "A couple of kids who've come through here have become pretty good players and stuck with the game, but not too many. But the opportunity's there."
What the driving range has become is a magnet for adult golfers and a bright spot in an otherwise uninviting corner of the park.
On this midweek afternoon about half a dozen golfers are practicing on the range. A man with a red ponytail halfway down his back is playing in jeans and no shirt. He has an enviable, relaxed swing and consistently drives the ball to near the 240-yard marker. Near him is a chunky Asian-American man, a duffer, who on his backswing lifts his front leg like Mel Ott. He wears a tie which he has stuffed inside his business shirt; that in the Long Knockers lexicon makes him a "necktie." Further down the line two middle-aged black women in smart-looking golf skirts share a bucket of balls, and a man who has pulled his clubs from the back of a Bell Atlantic van rushes through a small bucket before scurrying back to work.
Stevens is not the type who needs to be prompted with a lot of questions. He has been talking about his effort to get Charles Barkley out to the range—"Have you ever seen him play? He's a slob on the course. I played behind him once. I told him, 'You're a great basketball player. You should be a great golfer, too. Come out to the range. We've got some people who could help you.' "—when he abruptly cuts himself off.
"Hold on just a second, I've got to take care of something."
He has spotted someone hitting off the grass, in front of the stalls, where golfers are supposed to use plastic mats. It turns out the rule-breaker is a Philadelphia judge, a Long Knockers regular, practicing for a round later in the day at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, a tony course just over the city line.
"Yo, your honor!" Stevens bellows. "You are in the wrong jurisdiction to be hitting balls. You know better than that."