Monday, July 28, 2008

5 Questions With The First Tee

The five questions interview this week comes to you with two bonus questions at no extra charge!

The First Tee is a program that teaches young people life skills through the game of golf. By teaching that golf is “more than a game”, children from diverse backgrounds benefit from this non-profit organizations teachings. No, this is not a country club environment open to only those with the highest socio-economic status. The Golf Center at Palm Desert is the home of The First Tee Coachella Valley chapter. You would think that being in the golf haven that the Palm Springs area is that this chapter would be one of the oldest in the organization. Not so, they’ve just come to fruition after a few years of hard work in January of 2008. If you’ve watched any recent events or flipped through a golf magazine, you’ve likely heard of The First Tee. The program teaches nine core values to participants: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment. Golf is the perfect game to instill these values in young people. I caught up with Jan Hagan, Executive Director of the Coachella Valley chapter in his office and found out just how amazing this program is.

1. Tell me about how you got involved with The First Tee and what the program is about.

I was a high school principal in San Diego and would first winter in Palm Springs and then retired here and learned the game of golf. I’m not a really a golfer, but I got involved with The First Tee for the exceptional curriculum that it offers. It really is more than the catch phrase of "its more than a game". We take the children and teach them social and life skills. They learn how to introduce themselves, shake hands, look people in the eye, goal setting, and so much more. As their golf skills increase, their life skills increase.

I’ve got a really great staff as well – not just golfers but golfers that are really great with kids. These are people I would have loved to have work for me back when I was in the school system.

2. How does a parent get their child involved in The First Tee? What can they expect from the program?

We are trying to reach out all across the Coachella Valley and let parents know how. At the most, the program will cost a parent $100 for the entire year. If the child is on reduced price lunches through the schools, the cost is only $50 a year. If there is a real financial need we have other ways of getting the children in. Cost will never be an issue for a family that wants to have their children participate in The First Tee.

The program includes lessons and camps throughout the year and they can take one class right after another. In addition, we provide the clubs, the curriculum, and at least one value-added experience a month. For example we just took the kids to the Classic Club on a tour that most people would pay $195 for.

Also, we try to make this the club that really makes the kids feel comfortable – it’s their club. I like to use the analogy of the old television show Cheers – where everyone knows your name. I want the kids to feel like that here, like a second home. We talk about all of the values with the children here and translate it in their club here to school, home, and then later on in life when they look for jobs and move on. We keep track of their grades and make sure parents feel like they are getting a good value for their time and money in this program. These kids also learn the rules of golf and are accepted at just about every course because they know the rules of the game and not to tear up the courses.

3. How do you get your funding and keep the facility and the program going? How can the average person donate?

This facility (The Golf Center at Palm Desert) is run by the Parks and Recreation District of Coachella Valley. Before all of the cities around here became cities, they were just communities near Palm Springs. The Coachella Valley Parks and Recreation District is now a multi-city governmental agency and The First Tee is run through that. The actual cost per each child is close to $500 and the District picks that up short the $100 (at most) that the parents pay. Part of my duties are fundraising and right now we are looking at some tournaments in the near future.

We can take donations of cash or equipment, both of which are tax deductible that we give a receipt for. When people donate equipment it benefits the program in one of three ways. Sometimes the clubs can be used as they come for one of the older kids. Other times, the clubs can be modified to be used by a smaller kid. Finally, if neither of these options is feasible we are able to liquidate the clubs into cash by selling them and that goes directly back into the program. We make sure that donors know that the equipment will be utilized in one of these three ways but all benefit the kids. We give each participant a set of clubs that they can use, not to keep, but they always have a set that fits their level.

4. What are some of the successes that you have experienced since you’ve been involved with The First Tee?

Even though we’ve only been operating since January we still know that we have made a difference. We have parents tell us all the time that their children are more polite and overall more well behaved. They really can’t believe the results.

One story that sticks out for me is when we took a group eight of our top kids to Torrey Pines during the US Open. We had a junior clinic there with the kids and it was getting rather late in the day. I think we were the last group of kids out there that late since we were staying the night in San Diego. We were standing at the 18th hole and a group of people started walking over toward us. It turns out none other than Tiger Woods and his entourage was coming our way. Tiger was totally “in the zone” practicing before the Open. One of our kids had this large “bouncy ball” that looked like a golf ball and tosses is to Tiger and asks him to sign it. I didn’t have time to react and thought “oh no” since Tiger was totally focused in his practice and I wasn’t sure how he’d react. Well, he was quite gracious and got a pen from his caddie, signed the ball, and threw it back. That really made this kid’s day and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving participant. This young man really exemplified what The First Tee is all about.

Also, we focus on diversity and inclusiveness with The First Tee. For example, part of our program deals with special needs children and teaches them about golf and the life lessons. Well, each day we have what we call “Tiger of the Day” for the kid who really exemplified what lessons were being highligted. We had one kid who really wanted this honor for some time and had worked really hard at it. This one particular day he tried and tried and just powered through and got to be “Tiger of the Day”. This is something that can be quite difficult but seeing this young boy want, work for, and get this deserving honor was rewarding for all of us involved.

5. How young can children become involved in The First Tee?

The program is set up for children from 8-17 and we’ve had so many parents ask about younger that we started a program for the 4-8 year-olds called the Little Linksters. They aren’t cognitively ready for some of the life lessons that we teach but we can start them out with simple concepts of honesty and sportsmanship. They learn the basics of golf through games like golf baseball and tic-tac-toe.

6. Is this program nationwide? How can we find chapters of The First Tee and more information about your chapter?

To find out more about this chapter visit our website at The national website is There are over 200 chapters and they are in major metropolitan and smaller areas alike. Now that we have a chapter here in this heavily-golfed area we are looking to be an exemplary chapter.

7. What else should we know about the program?

Well, every chapter of The First Tee can not only use donations of money and equipment, but of time. We can’t keep hiring staff as the programs grow because it wouldn’t be affordable anymore. A group of committed volunteers is vital to the success of the program and we try to make it a truly rewarding experience for those who do volunteer.

By the way, The Golf Center at Palm Desert is an excellent par 3, 9 hole course to practice your short game on. Stop by before you have a round at one of the large courses instead of the practice range and you’ll be ready to go. No matter what the time of year, green fees are never more than $10 for nine holes and $15 for 18. The facility also offers lessons for all ages, a driving range, and a snack bar. You can also find more details about the track by reading my review at Golf WRX.


Lindsay said...

That's really great that any kid can participate, no matter what the financial status of their parents is. When I was in high school swimming, we had a good program to make sure anyone could join the team, even if they couldn't afford to pay all the costs.

Apryl DeLancey said...

Yeah, that's awesome! I like when there are programs like this for kids. Sports teaches them so much about life and everyone should be able to have that opportunity.