Sorenstam to become health advocate for First Tee

Annika Sorenstam

Annika Sorenstam

Like the youngsters it teaches, The First Tee keeps growing and maturing.

In 1997, the national program launched with the goal of engaging America’s children in golf. But since then it has evolved into much more than a grow-the-game initiative and has earned accolades for teaching youth life skills, character and integrity.

Now, it’s changing again.

At its annual meeting last week in San Antonio, The First Tee officials announced the addition of health and wellness promotion to its expanding curriculum. Spearheading the effort will be World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam.

“The First Tee has always shared my passion for building awareness around the healthy aspects of golf,” Sorenstam said in a statement. She will serve as the spokesperson for “The First Tee Nine Healthy Habits” that Sorenstam described as a “smart and systematic approach to reach children about health and fitness, and educate them on healthy life skills that they can integrate into their lives, even outside golf.”

The educational platform will take a holistic approach to teach physical and mental wellness by emphasizing nine “pillars:” energy, play, safety, vision, mind, family, friends, school and community. Specific curriculums to teach the importance of each topic soon will be developed. They will include instruction, for example, about eating healthily, exercising properly and building a support network.

“The Nine Healthy Habits, basically what they are, they’re nine habits that you would want all children to abide by,” said Don Ochsenreiter, president of the ANNIKA Foundation. “The First Tee collaborated with us and the Florida Hospital for Children. We worked on it all fall.” He added The First Tee intends to offer health and wellness instruction in approximately 4,000 schools at the start of the next academic year.

The First Tee unveiled its latest initiative as a key component of its next five-year strategic plan for 2011-15.

Among the goals it plans to reach by the end of this period:

• Reach four million new young people through its various program offerings, which would double The First Tee’s total reach to eight million since its inception.

• Increase the number of chapter program locations from 750 to 1,500.

• Increase the number of elementary schools offering The First Tee National School program from 4,000 to 8,000.

For the year ending Dec. 31, 2009, The First Tee’s national office reported revenue of nearly $11.9 million. The nonprofit youth development organization spent approximately 80 percent of that amount supporting its various programs and chapters. The balance was attributed to fund raising and administrative expenditures, according to its 2009 annual review. (The group’s 2010 financial report is not yet available.)

Said Joe Louis Barrow Jr., The First Tee’s CEO: “Our plans for the next five years will further The First Tee’s relevance as an established organization that impacts today’s youth.”

 Julie Williams contributed to this report.

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