It happens to every golfer. The frustratingly bad shot -- an errant drive into the woods, a misguided iron that lands in the water, an overpowered putt.

Irked, do you bang your club into the ground, spewing a stream of invective?

Absolutely not! This is golf, after all. A gentleman's game.

Anger management is just one of the lessons imparted at the First Tee of Howard County, part of a nationwide golf program for children that, in effect, grooms them to become ladies and gentlemen.

First Tee, which began nationally in 1997 and is in its fifth year in Howard County, is "a character development program that uses golf as its vehicle," said Don Van Deusen, executive director of the Howard program. It's also designed to make golf more accessible and affordable to those who wouldn't otherwise have a chance to play.

For $10, children ages 8 to 18 receive five two-hour lessons at Fairway Hills Golf Club in Columbia. They also get a T-shirt, baseball cap, balls and practice vouchers. Funding comes from First Tee National, the U.S. Golf Association and local contributions. Van Deusen estimated the budget to be $80,000. This year, nearly 600 children will participate in the Howard program, which runs from April to October. Golfers range from the beginners, known as the Pars, to the advanced players, or Eagles.

Ideally, Van Deusen said, many of the participants would be "kids that wouldn't normally have the opportunity to play golf, whether it's because of financial reasons, single-parent home settings, not living near a golf course." But he said it's often difficult to characterize participants by their economic backgrounds.

"Probably the number one question on the application that's left blank is the part about family incomes," he said.

No matter. The life skills taught by First Tee are universal: handshakes, eye contact and respect for oneself and others. During a recent session, Par-level golfers rotated among the putting green, driving range and the clubhouse classroom, where they practiced making good eye contact and speaking clearly.

How well the kids play matters less than how well they handle themselves, Van Deusen said. "We're not as concerned about how far you hit the ball, as long as you don't throw the club when you hit a bad one."

It's the rules of etiquette that have most impressed Lisa Mollo Blum, whose 9-year-old daughter, Abbey, is enrolled in the program.

In April, the Blums took their children to the Masters tournament in Augusta, Ga. Mollo Blum was awed by the civility displayed by the players and the spectators.

"You're watching the sport, and everyone is respectful," she said. "You can hear a pin drop. You can hear the birds. There's a respect for the game and for your opponents that you don't always see in other sports. As much as you try to teach good sportsmanship, it's a little more difficult with contact sports."

Van Deusen agreed. "What other sport teaches the honesty of keeping your own score, calling penalties on yourself? In basketball, if you commit a foul, if the referee doesn't call it, you don't stop and say, 'Okay, I fouled.' "

The students are also reminded that golfers shouldn't succumb to the impetuous behavior displayed by many contact-sport athletes, and that patience pays off.

It's a lesson First Tee instructor Michael Jermann was trying to drive home to Cody Grove, 12, on the putting green recently. In his second year with First Tee, Cody says he prefers driving to putting. "Putting takes too long to read a shot," he said.

When it was his turn, Cody walked hastily to his ball and swung his arms back without so much as a bend to read the green.

"You can't just walk up to the ball and hit it," Jermann admonished. "You've got to get behind it and look at it."

Cody obliged, crouching to examine the lie. He tapped the ball, dropping it into the hole.

On the next putt -- a 35-yarder, uphill -- Cody knew the drill. He bent down and, with a pro's patience, assessed the shot. He needed but one stroke.

"Oh, my Lord," Cody said, marveling as the ball plunked into the hole. "That's a Tiger Woods shot."

Will Partee gives pointers to Abbey Blum. Left, Edmund Seyfried, 9, concentrates as he begins a swing. First Tee is "a character development program that uses golf as its vehicle," said Don Van Deusen, the executive director.

Right, First Tee instructor Will Partee rests his hands on a club as he watches Abbey Blum, 9, left, take a swing at the Fairway Hills Golf Club in Columbia last month. Below, Partee begins an afternoon lesson with a group of children.