FIRST TEE’S NEW GOLF CAMPUS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
The word most often heard around First Tee of the Lowcountry’s new golf campus on Hilton Head Island isn’t “fore.”
That’s a referance to the core values the nonprofit organization teaches its young players. “Really, what the First Tee is about is instilling life-changing values in youth through the game of golf,” says executive director Brady Boyd.
Thanks to its year-old facility, the Lowcountry group plans to increase its outreach, with a goal of connecting with every elementary school student in Beaufort and Jasper counties. It also has opened its campus to adults who want to hone their golf skills or enjoy some of its other amenities. From 2 to 5 p.m. April 23, First Tee will officially open its driving range, 6-hole par-3 course and 9-hole disc golf course to the public. The celebration, which was postponed in October because of Hurricane Matthew, will feature a performance by Cranford Hollow, food and drinks, golf demonstrations and other activities.
The facility opened last spring, giving kids a place to learn to play golf. But more important, it has taught them values that will help guide them throughout their lives. Those nine core values are honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
First Tee of the Lowcountry is part of an international nonprofit organization, but it is one of only a few chapters that has its own facility. It adjoins the Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head Island on Gumtree Road. The golf campus spans 13 acres behind the club. For a $5 donation, the public can use the 325-yard driving range or other First Tee amenities when they are not being used for after-school or summer programs. It also has a stocked pond where kids can fish for free.
Boyd says opening the campus to the public was always part of First Tee’s plan. It comes from its desire to give back to the community, which donated the $1.5 million to build the facility. It also increases public exposure for its programs and helps raise money.
Over time, First Tee will do more to promote the facility for public use and for special events. It already has plans for a disc golf tournament, and other similar events could be in the works. Disc golf is a growing sport that could attract players to Hilton Head from around the country, says Bill Evans, First Tee board member.
In the three years since First Tee started on Hilton Head, it has spread to several schools. The organization trains gym teachers to include golf in their curriculums and gives them special golf clubs to help young beginners. The equipment includes plastic clubs with oversized heads and balls similar to tennis balls. The goal is to introduce kids to the sport in a fun way. Over time, as the children progress through the program, they advance to real clubs. Some are now playing for their high school golf teams.
Before the First Tee facility opened, the organization taught its lessons at courses around Beaufort County. Area golf courses continue to donate space and playing time to the program, providing convenient locations for families.
The program’s Life Skills Course, which mixes the core values with golf lessons, is taught by Boyd, program director Nick Dunham and volunteer coaches who have been trained by First Tee. The class costs $65, but no child is turned away because of the fee, says Boyd. The program also accepts donations of clubs and makes sure each child gets to play.
The program is run by a local board and paid staff members Brady and Dunham. Donna Sanders serves as a volunteer administrative assistant. First Tee depends on volunteers to help with maintenance, teaching classes and other tasks, and it always needs more people willing to lend a hand.
Paul Caruso, a First Tee of the Lowcountry founder and former program director, volunteers to teach the Life Skills Course and has been amazed at the results. He especially enjoys seeing the children succeed because of the program.
“I had one child who started with me 3 1/2 years ago. … Now he’s a freshman in high school, and he made the high school golf team.
“That was a pretty proud moment for me.”
To Caruso and other First Tee officials, though, the main goal is not success on the golf course but success in life.
“These kids will hopefully someday be responsible parents, responsible community leaders,” Boyd says. “That’s what we’re trying to develop here.”
Info box on grand opening and banquet
WANT TO GO?
The grand opening celebration for First Tee of the Lowcountry’s golf campus will be from 2 to 5 p.m. April 23. The campus is behind the Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head Island, 151 Gumtree Road.
First Tee will also hold its annual Community Leadership Awards Banquet from 5 to 8 p.m. April 10 at Sea Pines Country Club, 30 Governors Road.
For more information, call 843-686-2680.