Many youth golf programs teach young people the skills necessary to be successful on the course, but The First Tee Tennessee in the Tri-Cities is also teaching future generations the skills they need to be successful in life.
The First Tee is a national organization which was established in the Tri-Cities in 2008.
It helps instruct young people ages seven to seventeen learn the game of golf and values to go along with it.
Kora Bednar has been with The First Tennessee in the Tri-Cities since she was around nine or ten years old, but her love for the game of golf goes back even earlier.”
“Probably since I was like three with just plastic sets,” said Bednar, “because my family is really big on golf.”
From hitting, to putting, to having the right mindset, she knows golf demands a lot from students of the game.
“If you don’t keep a good attitude,” she said, “then everything can go downhill.”
That is why The First Tee Tennessee in the Tri-Cities not only focuses on the skills necessary to play the sport, but the core values that shape character on and off the course.
“We incorporate values such as honesty, integrity, respect, sportsmanship, judgement, and we teach life skills like interpersonal communication, goal setting, conflict resolution,” said regional director, Cody Weems, “all in the golf setting.”
The First Tee Tennessee operates at locations throughout the Tri-Cities.
It runs six weeks seasonally, practicing two hours a week.
“We’re primarily donor funded, which helps us keep costs low,” said program director, Adam Dean, “so even the average cost of a season which is six weeks of two hour classes is only $65, and on top of that, we scholarship a lot of our students.”
“Being owned and operated by a non-profit, the Tennessee Golf Foundation,” said Weems, “our goal is to make golf affordable and accessible for everyone.”
Each lesson contains a mixture of golf and life skills.
“At the end of class,” said Weems, “we do a ‘bridge to life,’ so we’re able to talk about and discuss how these skills and values that they learn that day on the golf course can actually be applied to their everyday life.”
Besides the approximately 300 students enrolled each year, The First Tee also has the chance to reach thousands through community outreach.
“One of the things we like to do is take golf into the elementary schools,” said Dean, “and so when we visit an elementary school, we can work with 500 kids at one time.”
Some students like the program for the camaraderie.
“It’s great,” said Cooper Terry, a First Tee participant, “you get to hang out and have fun with it and still be able to have competitive games where you can challenge each other to be better.”
Other set their sights on higher goals.
“I really want to go to college in California,” said Kaylee Linkous, “there’s a really good golf college there.”
But regardless of why they play the game, they know they’re getting more than just golf skills at The First Tee.
“I never thought there was anything more,” said Elijah Bobrosky, “but First Tee taught me that.”
The First Tee Tennessee in the Tri-Cities has spring, summer and fall programs available to young people of all experience levels.
Weems says a number of participants go on to compete in middle school, high school, as well as in competitive tournaments.