Colbert Hills Golf Course
First Tee Program strives to make golf accessible, affordable to all
By Keener A. Tippin II
While investors on a television commercial thank a brokerage firm for easing their financial worries, if the First Tee program were to make a similar sales pitch, they probably would shower their appreciation on Tiger Woods.
The First Tee, an initiative of the PGA TOUR and the World Golf Foundation in 1997, is designed to create affordable and accessible golf facilities, with an emphasis on serving kids who have not had access or exposure to the game. It is these access and affordability issues that will affect the future of the game.
Research conducted by the National Golf Foundation revealed that only 2 percent of children aged 12 to 17 ever try golf and that only 5 percent of the nation's golfers are minorities. Analysis showed that the major barrier to attracting more children, and especially economically disadvantaged children, to the game was the lack of places that welcomed them, places they could physically get to, and places that they could afford.
Woods, the preeminent golfer on the PGA TOUR, is changing the face of the game; making golf "cool" and exposing it to some who under normal circumstances might not be exposed to it -- the same things First Tee is attempting to achieve.
"It certainly is a tougher sell without Tiger's success because people need someone to identify with and that's the main selling point," said Dedric Holmes, director of programs for First Tee. "People realize the type of person Tiger is and what he represents in terms of excellence on and off the golf course and so it certainly makes an easier sell when we say we believe the game of golf, rich in tradition, in etiquette and things like that will help kids in the long run be better citizens. It's an easier sell to pass on something they can identify with and say if a kid plays golf he has the ability to meet people; to network and learn social skills. All those things are made easier from our sales pitch because of Tiger. There's no question about that."
First Tee's first and foremost mission, according to Holmes, is building golf facilities in non-traditional areas to introduce the game to kids. Within that mission is a goal of not only introducing the game of golf, but introducing to young people life skills, mentoring, goal setting and educational opportunities; instilling and nurturing essential values, such as honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, and a solid work ethic; developing self-esteem, civic responsibility, and confidence; and creating employment opportunities for young people who are introduced to the game.
While the First Tee is first and foremost a bricks and mortar facility, its legacy will be its programming and curriculum. According to Holmes, now that the "rubber is starting to hit the road" and facilities are built, more programming is needed. Some of that programming will be tested at the First Tee National Academy.
The seeds for the academy were planted abround 1998 at First Tee's national convention when a donor, Fred Tattersall of Richmond, Va., a long-time supporter of youth golf development who was concerned with ensuring excellence in instruction and programming within the organization, donated $1 million over a 10-year period to sponsor scholarship for participants. Tattersall's donation was in honor of William Powell, the first African-American to build a golf course in the United States.
The donation also set into motion the third element of First Tee, its life skills project, which is designed to "give kids a different set of skills they didn't have before," Holmes said. Because this was an endeavor that had not been done before on a national level by any youth serving agency, First Tee worked with Steve Danish, director of the Life Skills Center and professor of psychology, preventive medicine and community health at Virginia Commonwealth University, and the Stanford Research Institute to develop the life skills project.
Simultaneously, K-State was proceeding with its plans for Colbert Hills, the 315-acre, 18-hole championship golf course which opened in spring 2000 and features a nine-hole teaching course. Toss in the connection to Earl Woods and it was a no brainer.
In addition to the top-notch golf instruction and life skills participants receive in a seamless manner, golf professionals from each First Tee chapter also come in for the week and receive several hours of training on life skills.
"In essence, this academy will be used to plant the life skills seed throughout the First Tee network," Holmes said. "The participants will return to their home chapters and be mentors to the other members of their home chapters. Our golf professionals will come in and get trained on how to teach life skills."
Holmes envisions the academy being based at Colbert Hills at least until 2005 simply because many of the First Tee chapters don't have the ability to host such a program. However, talks are under way to perhaps expand and build a network of academies at universities such as Clemson, Texas A&M and Alcorn State.
"I wouldn't be surprised if two or three years from now we have three or four of these academies throughout the country at different universities. First Tee's mission is to introduce kids to college and what better way to do it than to bring them on a college campus for a whole week," Holmes said.
The camp has almost become a full-time job for Holmes. The organization was not initially established from a foundation standpoint to administer a lot of programming. But as the paradigm shifts from building facilities as fast as possible to developing programming, he estimates 50 percent of his time is spent on the academy; the other 50 percent is spent on the life skills project. Nonetheless, he is excited at the possibilities of the academy and what the future holds.
"I'm sure that as the years go by it'll get bigger and bigger. This program is really a good thing for society, the First Tee and for golf from a national standpoint," Holmes said.