Learning about Golf and Life “The First Tee” Way

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By Olivia Overman, Contributing Writer

Since 2002, our community has boasted a chapter of the international nonprofit youth golf organization, The First Tee® . The local chapter, The First Tee® of Prince William County, is based at Lake Ridge Golf Course, where its instructors give lessons on the 9-hole golf course to children age 4 to 18.

first teeProgram instructors teach more than the physical aspects of golf. “The First Tee teaches young people valuable life skills,” said Dianne Cabot, public relations manager for the Prince William County Department of Parks and Recreation. “The mission of The First Tee is to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.”

In addition to Lake Ridge, the chapter offers its program at three regulation 18-hole golf courses in Prince William: Forest Greens Golf Club in Triangle, General’s Ridge Golf Course in Manassas Park and Prince William Golf Course in Nokesville.

The First Tee of Prince William County also offers a voucher program for children of active National Guardsmen and reservists and this March started The First Tee program at the driving range of Locust Shade Park near Quantico in Dumfries, said Jenny Vogt, chapter coordinator and head coach.

The chapter’s goal for Prince William: “To bring golf to the youth of the area, but I just want to make a difference in these kids,” Vogt said. “I want to give them the opportunity to be exposed to golf and to [decide]whether they want to continue it. It’s a great sport. It can be played throughout their lives, and if I … and my staff can make a difference in one child’s life, it definitely brings a smile to our faces.”

Life skills that children learn through the organization’s  instruction  include  “problem  solving,  managing  time,  controlling one’s emotions, making friends with diverse peers, working well with others and improving relationships with family and community,”  Cabot  said.

The First Tee of Prince William County provides life skills coaching not only on golf courses, but in schools through in- school and after-school programs. The First Tee National School Program is implemented in 36 elementary schools throughout Prince William, where more than 23,000 area elementary school children received in-school golf lessons last year in physical education classes, Vogt said.

“It is an impressive number. I’m extremely happy with it. I’d like to get into more schools, but we need a little help with the funding,” she said. Vogt added that since the chapter started, it has also reached more than 2,500 local children in The First Tee’s certification program and last year taught more than 1,000 youths through TARGET Outreach classes held at YMCAs and health fairs in the county.

TARGET Outreach is designed as an introduction to golf and The First Tee Life Skills Experience™, The First Tee certification program. Components of the TARGET curriculum: “Take Aim,” “Anyone Can Play,” “Respect,” “Golf Is a Game,” “Enjoy Yourself ” and “Try It.”

The certification process forms the core of The First Tee curriculum. “Golf instruction, rules, etiquette and ‘life skills’ instruction are handled by professional golfers,” said Cabot. “The First Tee coaches raise young golfers’ self-esteem, discipline, honesty and integrity, all while [their students]learn and play this great game.”

Last year the Prince William chapter successfully served 242 participants in the certification program, Vogt said.

Participants advance through the certification process in five levels, with general requirements that include core lesson exposure and life and golf skills knowledge and application. To move to a higher level, participants must “demonstrate their understanding of the core golf and life skills. They will show their ability to apply the lessons learned both on and off the golf course,” said Cabot.

Cabot described the certification program’s levels:

■     PLAYer: Introduces playing the game of golf with special emphasis on The First Tee Code of Conduct, appreciating the rules and etiquette of the game and developing a game plan for both golf and life. (Required minimum age: 7.)

■     Ace: When students have progressed through all program levels, they can become Ace-certified, setting goals for golf and career education, and giving back to the community. (Required minimum age: 14 or entering ninth grade.)

The local chapter has also created a “Little Swingers” level for children 4- to 6-years old, Vogt said. It is an introduction to the game and certification program. “We take them out on the course and show them parts of the course and get them swinging with some specialized equipment, which is called SNAG equipment,” she said. SNAG (“Starting New at Golf ”) includes “oversize plastic clubs, small tennis balls, Velcro targets. Everything is colorful,”  she said.

The certification process is designed so that while children have fun learning the ins-and-outs of golf, they also learn values, such as respect for themselves and others, that help them build character and deal with situations in everyday life, as well as in golf.

Paramount to The First Tee program are the “Nine Core Values:” honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment. The  program also encapsulates “Nine Healthy Habits”: energy, play, safety, vision, mind, family, friends, school and community.

These form a foundation for achieving The First Tee’s goal of helping millions of youths at its 200 chapters nationally and five international locations.

The chapter relies on donations to help support its programs. The First Tee of Prince William County will hold its annual fundraiser golf tournament on Friday, May 24, at Forest Greens Golf Club.

For  details,  visit  www.thefirstteeprincewilliamcounty.org.

A graduate of American University’s School of Communication, Olivia Overman has written articles for a number of online and print publications. She can be reached by email at ooverman@princewilliamliving.com.



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