First Tee teaches sportsmanship and essential life skills through the game of golf.
by Michelle Boudin
Jayden Law first got involved in First Tee in the sixth grade, when his grandmother sent him to a summer camp that worked with the nonprofit. “She always told me golf was a rich man’s sport, and she wanted me to try it,” says Law, now 17. “I had no interest in golf, but now I really like it.”
First Tee gave Law his first set of clubs, and he’s been playing ever since. But even this high school senior will tell you, the nonprofit is about far more than just the sport of golf.
“They teach you how to play golf, but they really stress life skills and nine core values that help you with all aspects of life.” The core values are sportsmanship, courtesy, respect, perseverance, confidence, judgment, honesty, integrity and responsibility.
“We use the game of golf to teach life skills and character development,” says Daniel Fogarty, executive director of First Tee Greater Charlotte. “We work to make sure we’re creating good people. We don’t need more golfers in the world, but we do need better people — and that’s what we focus on, using the game of golf to make it happen.”
There are 150 First Tee chapters around the world, and Charlotte’s is among the largest. More than 135,000 kids participate each year through three different programs. The First Tee golf program takes place on a handful of golf courses across Mecklenburg County. The nonprofit is also part of the PE curriculum in most local elementary and middle schools, and the group partners with other community organizations like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs to offer kids in those settings the First Tee experience. In addition to getting a set of clubs, many of the kids are given scholarships to attend the camps and other programs.
Professional golfer Harold Varner III is on the board of directors at First Tee Greater Charlotte. “The First Tee means a lot, because it just allows kids to get around the game,” says Varner, who grew up in Gastonia and played golf at East Carolina University. “I am a believer in access, so I focus on those parts … the parts where they interact with their peers or elders on the course in order to better prep them for life. It takes a village to raise a kid, and I’d say the First Tee gives the kids that kind of love and support.”
This year, because Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club is hosting the Presidents Cup, First Tee kids will get to take part in some unique experiences. Myers Park Country Club will host the Junior Presidents Cup the week before the tournament, and First Tee participants will be spectators and standard bearers for the collegiate golfers competing in the inaugural Charlie Sifford Centennial Cup. The Aug. 29 event showcases men’s golf programs from six Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“It takes a village to raise a kid, and I’d say the First Tee gives the kids that kind of love and support.”– Harold Varner III
“The thing I love about First Tee is the way we’re positioned to deal with so many of the issues our city is facing,” Fogarty says. “We have every socioeconomic class, racial diversity and gender diversity, and the kids are building relationships based on respect and honesty and sportsmanship. I watch friendships form that become life-changing friendships.”
Law says it’s also helped put him on a specific path for the future. He wants to study business administration in college and plans to work in sports marketing and philanthropy.
“It’s helped me grow as a person and in other aspects of my life,” Law says of First Tee. “At school with friends and when I meet adults or other people, it’s helped me network, and I always use those core values. I keep trying no matter what — so I can do what I need to to be successful.” SP