The First Tee

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POSITIVE YOUTH DEVELOPMENT THROUGH THE GAME OF GOLF

PHOTO: From left, Caylen Green, Paul Caruso, Mike Davis, Daniel Deneen. Sitting: Juliana Vega.

How to Help?

The First Tee of the Lowcountry is in need of financial and equipment donations, sponsors and volunteers.

For more information, call Mike Davis at 843-384-1751 or email mdavis@thefirstteelowcountry.org; visit www.thefirstteelowcountry.org; or send donations to The First Tee of the Lowcountry, P.O. Box 23334, Hilton Head Island, SC 29925. Additionally, the program holds a golf tournament in the fall as a fundraiser. Call Davis for more information.

“What is courtesy?” Paul Caruso asked the dozen children sitting around the tables in The First Tee of the Lowcountry facility on Hilton Head Island.

Hands shot up.

“It means don’t talk over each other,” said one.

“It means letting others go first,” said another.

“It means helping each other and being nice,” another added.

Then Caruso reminded them about courtesy in golf. “When you watch golf on TV and when the players are done with their round, what do they do?”

Hands shot up again.

“They shake hands,” one child suggests.

By the Numbers

The First Tee has made a major impact on the communities and children it serves. Independent research confirms the youth development programs delivered through The First Tee’s chapters instill life skills and core values in youth participants. Highlights from a study of the program showed that:

Participants unanimously identified school as a setting in which they transferred life skills.

  • 73% of participants reported high confidence in their ability to do well academically.
  • 82% of participants felt confident in their social skills with peers.
  • 57% of participants credited The First Tee for their meeting and greeting skills.
  • 52% of participants credited the program for their ability to appreciate diversity.

“That’s right,” said Caruso. “But they also take off their caps and sunglasses and shake hands — not hard, but firm — and look into the other person’s eyes when they’re talking to them.”

Those are just some of the lessons these children are learning at The First Tee of the Lowcountry, an international youth development organization introducing the game of golf and its inherent values to young people.

“Through after-school and in-school programs, we help shape the lives of young people from all walks of life by reinforcing values like integrity, respect and perseverance through the game of golf,” according to the group’s website, www.thefirsttee.org. “And it’s making a difference. Ourresearch-proven programs are having a positive impact on participants, their families and their communities.”

The First Tee has some heavy-hitters who support the program, including Shell, the PGA, the LPGA and the USGA. Board members include Arnold Palmer, and former President George W. Bush serves as honorary chair. He succeeds his father, former President George H.W. Bush, who served as The First Tee’s honorary chairman since the organization’s inception and is now honorary chair emeritus.

While the program started in 1997, it is just in its second year on Hilton Head Island, with satellites in Bluffton, Beaufort, Ridgeland and Hardeeville.

The First Tee, whose main facility, the Joseph P. Frazier Golf Learning Center, is next door to the Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head Island on Gumtree Road, came to the Lowcountry thanks to people like golf architect Clyde Johnson and Kim Likins, director of the Boys & Girls Club, among others.

Now, it is run by executive director Mike Davis and programs director Caruso. The program is staffed by more than 50 volunteers, some of whom serve as coaches. One of those coaches, Elaine Shayne, said instructing the children “is very rewarding. … The whole idea is to make it fun.”

The facility property is leased by the Town of Hilton Head Island to the Boys & Girls Club, which in turn leases it to The First Tee. There, a 6-hole, par-3 short course was designed by Johnson. There is also a putting and chipping area and a driving range that doubles as a soccer field. And there’s a pond that was built on the course that has been stocked with fish so that kids can also go fishing. Additionally, the course doubles as a disc golf course, and an interactive playground is being built on the property.

But it always comes back to teaching children values.

“Golf is the perfect vehicle to emphasize values that need to be reinforced in today’s society,” said Davis, adding that The First Tee is really teaching children its “Nine Healthy Habits”: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

“Golf is secondary to what we do,” said Caruso. “What we do is teach them to respect themselves, to respect others, and to build that around physical health.”

The cost is kept low — $75 for the eight-week course — and there are discounts and scholarships available for those who can’t afford the program, which serves children ages 7 through high schoolers.

Ultimately, Davis said, they hope to make this a place for the whole community.

In the meantime, grateful parents and grandparents express how pleased they are with the program.

“Thank you 1st Tee Coaches!!,” wrote a grandparent on The First Tee of the Lowcountry’s Facebook page, who also posted a video of their granddaughter’s swing improvement over the last two seasons. “This is our granddaughter and we are so proud of her and watching her improving has been so rewarding, but seeing what this experience has done for her is so exciting!! She has grown and she has more confidence in herself is priceless!!! May God bless you all!!”