First Tee invests in expansion of values

Students of the First Tee program during the Children's Miracle Foundation Classic at Disney.

The unyielding pressure of chasing quarterly sales projections can make golf business people an ornery bunch.

How else to explain their private muttering about programs such as The First Tee, which introduces America’s youth to golf? They’ll donate money to junior programs more often than not because it’s the politically correct thing to do. But some would much rather invest in initiatives that grow the game now. They have little patience, if any, to wait for young golfers to mature into older ones who can spend significantly on the sport.

The First Tee crusaders, however, don’t share that shortsighted view.

They insist that restoring the game’s health means supporting long-term solutions as well as plucking “low-hanging fruit.” And what they’ve discovered along the road to creating tomorrow’s golfers is that teaching golf’s values to children helps them lead more productive lives. Creating golfers still is central to The First Tee’s mission: More than 250,000 program participants play the game regularly, recent surveys show. Plus, The First Tee takes credit for producing nearly 9,300 high school golfers and 1,700 players in the college ranks.

“For us, teaching character education and golf is seamless,” said Joe Louis Barrow Jr., chief executive officer of The First Tee. “We can’t do one without the other.”

The First Tee’s transformation into a youth-development program has been profound. And it’s still evolving.

At the organization’s annual meeting last week in San Antonio, The First Tee unveiled plans to help tackle the epidemic of child obesity in the U.S.; it will develop a health and wellness program and weave it into its curriculum that already is taught in The First Tee chapters and its National School Program, delivered in more than 4,000 elementary schools. Barrow also shared The First Tee’s ambition to address one of the nation’s most crippling problems – high school “dropout factories.”

The First Tee will partner with America’s Promise Alliance, a national effort committed to improving graduation rates. Initially, The First Tee will target at least three communities – Chicago, Nashville and Houston – and teach life skills to elementary-grade students who are bound for troubled high schools. Studies have shown that it’s critical for students to achieve math and English competency and avoid truancy before the sixth grade to have any chance for high school success.

“We know The First Tee provides students confidence, emotional management and leads to better performance,” Barrow said. “Our premise is that they’ll be less susceptible to the influences that might derail them.”

At a time when too many pay lip service to giving back, The First Tee is doing much more. It’s paying it forward.

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