For the last 14 years, The First Tee program, an initiative of the World Golf Foundation, has been educating young people on the values of golf and the life lessons that are inherent to the game. The First Tee has become a leader in golf education and youth mentoring, with chapters established across the United States and around the world. What makes The First Tee unique is their mission to make golf accessible to young people who may not have otherwise become involved with the game. Perhaps no area of the country is less favorable to nurturing young golfers than New York City, yet there are few places where The First Tee’s benefits are needed more. The nation’s largest metropolitan area may be a far reach from rolling hills and pristine greens, but amidst the crowded streets and concrete high rises, The First Tee is thriving.
Several key challenges had to be faced in planning golf instruction for an urban environment. The first was finding suitable practice facilities with enough open space. The Mosholu Golf Course and driving range was more than accommodating. Thanks to a partnership between the golf course and the Metropolitan PGA, The First Tee has found unlikely home in the Bronx.
“We’re pretty lucky,” says Todd Bordonaro, Director of Instruction for The First Tee Metro New York. “The Metro PGA and the Metro Golf Association partnered with The First Tee and took over the lease on Mosholu Golf Course, so we have full use of the driving range, putting green, and golf course.”
In Manhattan, where open space is at an even higher premium, The First Tee has made use of the two-story driving range and practice facility at Chelsea Piers overlooking the Hudson River. Since 2007, the Chelsea Piers golf range has hosted over 350 hours of instruction for The First Tee, with help from some familiar professionals like LPGA star Paula Creamer. While the majority of The First Tee’s on- and off-course lessons take place at Mosholu GC, the Chelsea Piers facility has been invaluable to the growth of the program in Manhattan, offering year-round availability.
The second task in developing The First Tee’s presence in New York was attracting participants. Filling available spots, however, was not a problem. Metro New York, which encompasses the five boroughs, Long Island, and parts of Connecticut and New Jersey, has become one of The First Tee’s largest chapters. Participants have the option of enrolling in Life Skills education, a full-time program that students complete over several years, or signing up for summer instruction.
“We have over 5,000 kids enrolled in the Life Skills program,” said Bordonaro. “A couple of years ago we were at capacity. We basically had to stop taking kids in.”
An increase in available volunteers, as well as a number of students graduating from high school and aging out of the program has allowed The First Tee Metro New York to expand rapidly in the past few years.
“About 50,000 kids participate in our summer programs,” says Barry McLaughlin, Executive Director of the Metro New York chapter.
Though The First Tee began as a platform for disadvantaged young people to learn the lessons of golf and its utility in their everyday lives, it has grown into an educational foundation with much broader horizons.
“Middle class families have been drawn to the program by the availability of college scholarships and financial aid, as well as the job opportunities The First Tee creates for their kids.” McLaughlin said.
At every stage of adolescence, The First Tee Metro New York provides education, instruction, and support in communities where opportunities are often limited. In one of the most unlikely settings for The First Tee to flourish, enrollment and participation are at all-time highs.
“Golf is such a small part of the program,” says McLaughlin. “It’s all about education.”