By Dave Seanor
St. Augustine, Fla.
By any measure, The First Tee is gaining momentum. That was evident Oct. 24-26 at the organization’s annual meeting and fifth anniversary celebration at the World Golf Village.
“This year alone, more than 100,000 children and teens participated in our programs at The First Tee facilities across the country,” said Joe Louis Barrow, executive director of The First Tee. “Our goal was to touch the lives of 60,000 children, and to exceed that goal significantly speaks volumes about the program and its importance to communities across the country.”
Several developments on the branding, fund- raising and scholarship fronts spoke just as loudly.
Perhaps most significant is the progress The First Tee appears to be making in its efforts to obtain federal funding. Among the speakers at the annual meeting were U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, and David Whitestone, The First Tee’s lobbyist in Washington.
Whitestone, a lawyer with Holland & Knight LLP, recently organized an informational breakfast for 30 congressmen and senators and has hosted a Ryder Cup-style match pitting Democrats vs. Republicans. He reported that one of the biggest First Tee supporters in Congress is Tom DeLay, the Texas Republican who is House majority whip and a high-ranking member of the Appropriations Committee.
Federal funding hasn’t been secured, but The First Tee has enjoyed success at the corporate level. Coca-Cola was introduced as a new First Tee sponsor and several corporate fund-raising partnerships were announced.
The soft drink company will assist First Tee chapters via the Coca-Cola Youth Partnership initiative as well as work with The First Tee to develop regional and national promotions that will extend The First Tee brand.
The new partners are Pro Golf America, MBNA, eBay Sports and Business Golf Corp.
Pro Golf America plans to run a variety of promotions at its 140 Pro Golf Discount stores nationwide, including an “Add A Buck” campaign. Customers will be asked to add $1 to each purchase, which will go directly to the local First Tee chapter.
MBNA is developing The First Tee affinity MasterCard. The First Tee will receive $1 per account opened; $1 per active account after 12 months; and .5 percent of all retail transactions.
Auctions on behalf of The First Tee will be conducted by eBay Sports, and the eBay portal will run special First Tee promotions on its Web site.
Business Golf Corp. made a $150,000 commitment to The First Tee, promising a percentage of local entry fees to its USA Corporate Golf Championship tournament series.
A portion of the money raised by partnership programs will go into a national pool for “best practice grants” to local chapters.
Meanwhile, the effectiveness of The First Tee Life Skills curriculum is gaining the attention of college scholarship committees. The addition of 12 colleges to the First Tee Scholars Program was announced, boosting the total scholarship commitment to 28 (two per school).
The First Tee Scholars Program was spawned by a surprise announcement at last year’s annual meeting, when Georgetown (Ky.) College president Dr. William Crouch committed two four-year scholarships annually to qualified participants of The First Tee. Kansas State University, home of The First Tee’s annual Life Skills Academy, matched Georgetown’s commitment the next day.
An advisory committee led by Crouch is actively seeking similar scholarship commitments from other colleges and universities (the University of Maryland will be among several additions officially announced before year’s end). The committee is drawing up eligibility criteria and hopes to announce the first scholarship recipients next spring.