The First Tee of Greater Philadelphia is instilling core values in young people through the game of golf
By Samantha Bambino
Growing up, most kids try their hand at a few hobbies. More often than not, these include a dance class at a local studio or joining the Little League baseball team. While these certainly teach important life skills, the nonprofit The First Tee of Greater Philadelphia is working to impact young people with something a bit more unique — the game of golf.
The mission behind The First Tee, which has programming at Spring Mill Country Club and Bensalem Township Country Club, is to provide educational programs that instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices, all through golf. With the core values of courtesy, respect, judgment, responsibility, sportsmanship, confidence, honesty, integrity and perseverance, the experience is designed to teach skills such as interpersonal communication, self-management, goal setting, mentoring and effective conflict resolution.
According to The First Tee’s director of programs, Rebecca Caimano, all skill levels are welcome to participate.
“We’re more concerned about them being good people, not good golfers,” she said.
The organization accepts young people ages 6–18 years old, though some programs are available for 4–5 year olds as well. The kids are placed where they will excel the most based on skill level and maturity. Currently, the Greater Philadelphia chapter reaches more than 16,000 kids in the city and its surrounding counties, and has experienced a tremendous amount of growth over the last few years. By 2018, the chapter plans to reach at least 20,000 youths.
Out of the 155 First Tee chapters in the country, Greater Philadelphia has the highest number of female participants, a recent increase from 41 to 48 percent. The number of female coaches has also grown to 30 percent, which includes several alumni.
In addition, 15 percent of the Greater Philadelphia chapter’s population is special needs youth. As a proud partner of ELS for Autism, The Overbrook School for the Blind and the Widener Memorial School, The First Tee has established an initiative to enhance its programming to better suit kids with special needs. According to Caimano, several students are visually impaired, so instructors will start them with tennis balls to teach basic skills before moving onto traditional golf balls.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from,” Caimano said. “Anyone can play.”
The First Tee has several programs for local kids who wish to learn golf. Through the Certification Program, which serves 1,500 students, weekly classes are offered at local golf clubs, mini golf courses and driving ranges. With its National Schools Program and DRIVE curriculum, The First Tee instructors visit local schools to train the gym teachers, who then incorporate what they’ve learned into their own lessons. The organization is in 65 Philadelphia-area schools.
In addition to its programming, The First Tee hosts various fundraising events throughout the year. One of the biggest is the Annual First Tee Invitational, which took place last month at the ACE Club in Lafayette Hill, one of the best clubs in the state, according to Golf Digest. Participants were able to experience a world-class golf club, bid on auction items and, of course, play some golf.
Each year, the goal of the invitational is to raise funds for the chapter’s educational programming. The goal was to raise $100,000, a significantly higher amount than funds raised at 2016’s event, but according to Caimano, the organization happily reached its goal.
For her, the highlight of The First Tee is the ability to be unique. So many kids play the traditional sports of baseball and soccer, but golf is something different. There’s no physical contact and for the most part, no competitiveness. According to her, the kids are solely against themselves and the golf course. It’s about personal accomplishments and cheering peers on when they achieve them.
“Golf is different than other games and sports. It teaches them how to respect other people,” she said. “We’re not just teaching golf. We’re making good people into better people.”
For information on The First Tee of Greater Philadelphia, visit thefirstteephiladelphia.org. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org