First Tee teaches Vancouver kids about golf and life
Golf lessons for children are nothing new. But the First Tee is new to Vancouver, and the program is hoping to revolutionize the way youngsters learn about the sport—to make them better golfers and better people.
In the past, there have been barriers to kids taking up the game. Access to both courses and qualified instructors has been the main obstacle, particularly for inner-city children, who, because of their lot in life, don’t get the opportunity to swing away at a sport still viewed by many as one for the privileged and elite.
That, however, is about to change with the launch of a Vancouver chapter of the wildly successful First Tee program. Established by the World Golf Foundation in 1997, the First Tee was designed to help children aged eight to 18 learn not only the fundamentals of golf, but the life skills required to play it.
The foundation researched the reasons why most children—especially those who are economically disadvantaged—do not play golf and found that these kids don’t feel welcome, can’t get to the places they need to, or can’t afford to take up the game. For more than a decade, the First Tee has tried to knock down those walls.
Based on nine core values—honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment—the First Tee wants to teach all children, and particularly at-risk and underprivileged youth, how to find the middle of the fairway. More importantly, it aims to ensure these children avoid the rough and hazards in the game of life. The goal of the program is not to create champion golfers, but to use the game of golf to give the participants skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Operated by the YMCA, the Vancouver chapter of the First Tee—the second chapter in Canada (after Montreal's) and the 205th worldwide—will be based at the park-board-run Fraserview Golf Course, and is in the process of enrolling participants for programs starting in August.
“This is new territory for the Y, but the idea of giving children the opportunity to be exposed to golf and everything the First Tee is about appealed to us,” First Tee of Greater Vancouver YMCA manager Robyn Moore tells the Straight in a telephone interview. “We looked at the mission statements of the First Tee and the Y and they aligned well—teaching life skills to young kids and children who couldn’t otherwise afford to play golf.”
At the very core of the First Tee is the commitment to using golf as a way to instill these skills. While most golf lessons involve a professional working on technique, children in the First Tee won’t get the chance to tune their golf games unless they devote themselves to learning life-based fundamentals, too. Participants are taught about decision-making and its consequences, goal-setting, and the need to maintain a positive attitude in all they do.
“One of the great things about the First Tee is that these kids can’t opt out of the life-skills instruction and focus only on the golf—in this program, the two go hand in hand,” says Moore. “The whole idea is to develop character through the game of golf, and we’re trying to give much more than golf instruction.”
The initiative is led by Fraserview teaching professionals Tom Monaghan and James Presnail, who’ve been certified by the First Tee and have the tools to reach children who have never had the chance to swing a golf club. The game can be frustrating for many at the start, but the First Tee aims to help the kids have fun as they learn, recognizing that it's important for youngsters to enjoy the learning process..
The First Tee of Greater Vancouver wants to involve a thousand children in its first year, through summer classes as well as after-school sessions in the fall. The plan is to eventually expand the First Tee program through outreach and visits to area community centres.
“The First Tee is open to anyone between eight and 18, and one of our main goals is to make sure 25 percent of the children in the program are on financial assistance,” explains Moore. “Our summer programs will be hour-and-a-half sessions four days a week. We have to keep the classes relatively short. For the most part these are young kids, and we have to make sure they don’t lose their focus.”
Like many YMCA projects, the First Tee relies on volunteers to assist the instructors, and it’s also actively seeking private and corporate funding to help enroll as many children as possible. Moore says that the First Tee will likely hold a fundraising golf tournament later this year, and she’s hoping many of the charity golf tournaments that take place in the city each year will consider this new initiative as a beneficiary.
The Vancouver golf community should be among the leaders in supporting the First Tee. And the ultimate goal of the program is to produce the types of young people who, years from now, will be in a position in their lives to return the favour to the First Tee of Greater Vancouver, and give a new group of youngsters the same opportunities they had to learn about both golf and life.
Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio, Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/patersonjeff/.