Sports: Tee Time
6th Annual Boyz of the Tee, First Tee Forth Smith
photography courtesy of First Tees
Young people often have little or no golf experience when they show up at The First Tee of Central Arkansas. But that quickly changes if they stick with the program.
Not only do they learn how to play golf — and to play it well — they also develop valuable life skills they take with them off the course and on through life. At the heart of the program are the Nine Core Values, incorporated into learning both on and off the course: honesty; integrity; sportsmanship; respect; confidence; responsibility; perseverance; courtesy; and judgment. Last year, the program also introduced the Nine Healthy Habits, which reinforce physical, emotional and social wellbeing.
The First Tee program has been around since 1997 when the World Golf Foundation created it as a way to make golf accessible and affordable to young people who may otherwise not have the opportunity to learn the game and be exposed to its positive values.
The late Jack Stephens, entrepreneur, philanthropist and former chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, helped start The First Tee program nationally, and contributed significantly to facilities in Arkansas. There are First Tee sites all over the country, including five in Arkansas: Little Rock; Fort Smith; northwest Arkansas in Lowell; Texarkana; and northeast Arkansas in Blytheville.
Last year, the St. Augustine, Fla.-based organization launched a campaign to reach 10 million youth by the year 2017. To reach that goal, The First Tee is working to double the number of chapter locations from 750 to 1,500; double the number of elementary schools that participate in The First Tee National School Program from 4,000 to 8,000; increase the progression of teenagers through the programs; and increase the percentage of female and ethnically-diverse participants.
Individual sites have set their own goals. The First Tee of Central Arkansas reached more than 1,300 children from Little Rock and the surrounding areas last year and has a goal of more than doubling that to 3,000 by the end of next year.
“We have a unique ability to help at-risk youth grow into leaders for tomorrow,” said Cory Biggs, executive director of The First Tee of Central Arkansas. “It’s my dream to be able to honestly say that through increased efforts that The First Tee of Central Arkansas is reaching tens of thousands of children.”
The Little Rock site serves a growing number of minority students and girls, impoverished youth, youth with disabilities, and children of military families.
“Those groups were identified as not having ready access to the game of golf. [They are individuals] who faced barriers, and we’re about tearing those barriers down,” Biggs said.
The Little Rock facility gives youth — as well as the general public — access to a nine-hole championship course; a 9-hole par-3 course; and a 15-acre driving range that ranks as one of the nation’s Top 100 Driving Ranges for public courses. For an annual membership fee of $175, a child gets year-round access to the facilities, golf instruction and golf equipment. Several children receive scholarships to participate in the programs. In May, the facility launched its “Put It On the Green” campaign to raise money and awareness of the program.
“It is a Community Commitment campaign in which we are asking people from our community who have never been involved to come check us out, to support us financially or volunteer their time,” Biggs said.
In Little Rock, students learn in the classroom and on the greens. “Every one of our lessons is underlined by the core value we are teaching that day,” Biggs said. Golf is unique from other sports in that players regularly call penalties on themselves and report their own score, teaching honesty. Responsibility, another core value, comes into play because players are accountable for their actions on the greens. They must keep score, repair divots, rake bunkers, repair ball marks on the green and keep up the pace of play.
Fort Smith has a similar year-round program for youth. “We have a poster on the front door that says, ‘Attitude stops here,’” said Misty Lewis, director of The First Tee of Fort Smith. “We try to keep it fun and upbeat, but we expect them to show respect.”
The Fort Smith program has partnered with about 20 schools to reach even more youth through The First Tee National School Program, which trains public school physical education teachers how to incorporate the Nine Core Values and Nine Healthy Habits into their curriculum.
Lewis hopes to increase the program’s reach from 18,000 to 25,000 youth in the Fort Smith area through the School Program.
The First Tee of Northwest Arkansas currently reaches about 25,000 students at 54 public and private schools in Benton and Washington counties through The First Tee’s National School Program.
“This year our goal was to add 10 new schools, and we’ll meet our goal,” Teresa Williamson, director of outreach, said. “We’ll have 56 schools by September.”
In March, the First Tee of Northwest Arkansas opened the Tyson Foods First Tee Learning Center in Lowell, which features a three-hole course, putting green, clubhouse and classrooms. The new facility has helped the chapter nearly double the number of year-round youth, ages 7 to 17, it serves to 750. Programs are also offered at the Tanyard Creek Driving Range in Bella Vista and Stonebridge Meadows Golf Club in Fayetteville.
Two of Northwest’s unique offerings are the Unilever Girls Golf program, which pairs girls ages 13 to 18 with mentors who are corporate executives, and the Heinz Mentorship program, which does the same for boys ages 12 to 18.
“It’s a highly successful program,” Williamson said. “It’s a great way for us to bring in our community, especially our executives, and the kids love it.”
Officials hope to expand this programming for special needs children.
In southern Arkansas, The First Tee of Greater Texarkana served more than 5,500 youth from both sides of the state line last year. The program is very affordable, charging no more than $55 a year — a $25 annual fee and $10 per seasonal golf session.
“We started in 2006 with 174 students and every year, we’ve just about doubled in size,” said Mary Adams, executive director. “We knew we would plateau at some point, but we still expect to reach the mark within five years.”
The First Tee of Northeast Arkansas is operated by the Mississippi County Arkansas Economic Opportunity as a nonprofit 501(c)3. Programs are offered at the Oaks Golf Course in Blytheville free of charge to children 6 to 19, fulfilling The First Tee’s goal of making golf both accessible and affordable.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
The First Tee of Central Arkansas
1 First Tee Way • Little Rock
501.562.4653 • thefirstteear.org
The First Tee of Fort Smith
5800 Geren Road • Fort Smith
479.648.9833 • thefirstteefortsmith.org
The First Tee of Greater Texarkana
2321 Line Ferry Road • Texarkana
870.774.7653 • thefirstteetexarkana.org
The First Tee of Northeast Arkansas
1229 Perimeter Road • Blytheville
870.776.1054 • thefirstteenear.org
The First Tee of Northwest Arkansas
715 E. Monroe Ave. • Lowell
479.419.5807 • thefirstteenwar.org