Monday, October 13, 2014

Tee it up with the First Tee - You'll be glad you did

In case you've been wondering what you could be doing with all the spare time you have, I've got a great solution that is very rewarding, fun and helps grow the game we all love. Of course, I'm kidding about spare time, but I do want to encourage you to get to know your local First Tee program. With chapters in all 50 states and four international locations, there is bound to be one near you. I know there are many GCSAA members who are already involved with their local programs, and I applaud their efforts.

Earlier this year, I visited the First Tee facility in Fort Worth for the first time because one of my mentors in the golf industry, Don Armstrong, was receiving the First Tee of Fort Worth Leadership Award for his tireless contribution during the construction and ongoing operations of the facility. I worked for Don Armstrong when he was an assistant superintendent at Colonial Country Club, back when guys named Lietzke, Zoeller and Nicklaus were winning the Colonial NIT Championship. Don, along with another of my mentors, Lindy Miller, both encouraged me to get involved with the program and introduced me to a lot of inspiring people. Part of the ceremony that night were introductions by several of the young First Tee participants, who all talked about how the program had profoundly influenced their lives in so many positive ways. I love when First Tee kids say, “And oh yeah, I learned to play golf too.”

The very next day, I signed up to be a volunteer for the program. It was an easy process, and they put me to work the next Saturday. With my history of working for Don and Lindy, I didn’t expect anything less. Like many of you, any time someone figures out what I do for a living and my background, they tend to ask for help with “that spot in their back yard where they just can’t seem to get the grass to grow.” I wanted to be helpful in that regard with the facility, but I really wanted to focus on working with kids and leave the grass growing to the real experts. I turned into the field “consultant” when my boys were in Little League and every other time I volunteered somewhere.

The First Tee of Fort Worth is located at Rockwood Golf Course, specifically in the Ben Hogan Learning Center. It includes classrooms, recreation areas, an incredible golf library and offices. The program utilizes the Rockwood driving range, practice greens and a six-hole practice course. Kevin Long is the executive director, and he and his staff do an incredible job of running the program and reaching kids. Like many parts of the country, Fort Worth has an alarming student dropout rate and a generation that desperately needs guidance and direction. Kevin’s team also manages a terrific outreach program that brings the First Tee curriculum directly to area schools.

The Learning Center also houses a museum that has great information about Ben Hogan and the impact golf has had in the Fort Worth community. As someone who grew up playing golf in Fort Worth and having had the privilege of working as an assistant at Shady Oaks Country Club when Mr. Hogan was still very active, it’s a very special place for me. I’d encourage you to stop in for a visit if you are ever in the area. In case you didn’t know, we are pretty darned proud of our golf history in Cowtown.

Since volunteering, I have advanced through the First Tee coaching system and now serve as the lead coach for a regular Saturday morning class. There are classes almost every day at this facility, so it was easy for me to find a commitment that fit around my busy travel schedule with GCSAA. Anyone who has ever teed it up with me will realize that golf ability is not a prerequisite for a First Tee coach! They give you lots of training material and guidance to help you structure the lessons. I teach a PLAYer 2 Class, which is for beginning players, so my 14+ handicap is plenty good enough to teach the fundamentals. Plus, I have a wonderful group of other volunteers and parents who help me prepare and deliver the lessons each week. Kris Traver is the “co-lead coach” of our group and the real brains behind our operation. She keeps me on script and inspires me to do it for the most important reason we give our time – the kiddos.

By far, the most rewarding part of working with the First Tee is the opportunity to deliver the lessons on the "9 Core Values." The program insists that coaches talk about the core values every week, and I believe it really puts a higher priority on this message above the golf. I love that. I’m proud to say that our students can recite the 9 Core Values by heart by the end of our time with them. We shout them each week when we do our warmups as part of our exercise cadence: Respect! Courtesy! Responsibility! Confidence! Honesty! Integrity! Sportsmanship! Judgment! Perseverance! It’s pretty funny each week to see 8 and 9 year old boys and girls doing warm-up exercises “old school” football style but that’s exactly what we do.

We are also working on ways to bring an environmental education component to the lesson curriculum at the First Tee of Fort Worth. It’s a natural fit because we have plenty of great examples of the way golf benefits the environment at the Rockwood course and kids who already have an interest in golf. I envision a “Golf and the Environment Day” where we can deliver the good news about golf and its positive impact on the environment in Fort Worth to students, parents, golfers and the general public. Rockwood sits adjacent to the Trinity River in Fort Worth, so we are hoping to partner with the Tarrant Regional Water District to provide this useful education. Every week I talk to my class about course care and etiquette on the course, but this would take it to the next level. I hope to get individual superintendents involved with this program as well as the North Texas GCSA chapter.

Kevin Long and BC enjoying The Colonial
I really hope GCSAA members will consider becoming involved with the First Tee. I think you can tell that I am proud of the work I have done and have enjoyed every minute of it. I know I get more reward from donating my time than the kids ever will. And maybe along the way, I will make a difference in some of the kids lives and futures.

For more information about the First Tee please visit