First Tee of West Texas: Life Skills are Par for the Course
Jan 29, 2020 11:28AM
written by sabrina forse | photos provided by first tee of west texas
Firm handshake is common courtesy when greeting others. A handshake to begin and end a round of golf is a symbol of courtesy and respect. Courtesy is one of the nine core values being reinforced as children and teens are being introduced to golf and the First Tee Life-Skills Experience. The First Tee of West Texas is a local non-profit that is expanding its impact across the area as it introduces kids to not only golf but essential life skills.
After two and half years of planning, formation, and laying the ground work, Executive Director Bill Kirby and the organization’s Board of Directors launched The First Tee of West Texas in 2019, becoming the 151st licensed First Tee chapter nationally and the ninth chapter in Texas. “First Tee has been a national program for twenty-two years. First Tee of West Texas is the newest chapter. We want to introduce golf to kids who may not have had the opportunity otherwise while also teaching them life skills” said Bill Kirby.
In September of 2019, First Tee of West Texas kicked off its first eight-week Golf & Life Skills program at Nueva Vista Golf Club. In the spring of 2020, the non-profit will expand its program to Hogan Park Golf Course. The First Tee of West Texas is also renovating the abandoned and former Masters Golf driving range and practice facility on north Loop 250. The effort is being spearheaded by board member Billy Munn who’s teamed up with his friend and PGA Professional and Golf Hall of Famer Ben Crenshaw. Once complete, the facility will be the First Tee of West Texas home base. It will also serve as a practice facility for Midland ISD and Greenwood ISD golf programs.
The chapter’s first efforts in establishing the organization began in October 2017 by raising the funds to offer the First Tee National School Program (NSP) at four elementary schools in Midland. “That National School Program is taught through the school district so I met with Midland ISD and we raised money to start the program in four schools.”
The National School Program is taught during regular P.E. class. “The school program is designed to introduce golf to kids while seamlessly teaching the core values.” Those core values are honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgement. From those initial donations, the organization was able to supply equipment, curriculum and training to the P.E. teachers. “Soon thereafter, Midland ISD asked us how we could expand the program into all twenty-seven elementary schools. The Board of Directors of the organization voted unanimously to proceed and they began raising funds,” explained Kirby. By the fall of 2019, generous donors made it possible to expand the program to all Midland ISD elementary schools as well as sixteen elementary schools in Odessa ISD and Greenwood ISD. Currently, 20,000 kids are being reached through the First Tee of West Texas programs.
Currently, 20,000 kids are being reached through the First Tee of West Texas programs.
In September 2019, First Tee of West Texas launched its first Golf & Life Skills Experience at the Nueva Vista Golf Club in Midland. Forty-two kids ages 7 to 13 participated in one of two evening sessions each week. Each participant starts at the Player Level. “As the kids age and advance their skills, they can certify to the next levels of Par, Birdie, Eagle and Ace.” Volunteer coaches trained by First Tee teach both golf and life skills during each lesson. “Honesty is one of the core values we teach during golf instruction. Kids must keep track of their own scores and write down the correct score. Living with integrity is another core-value or life skill taught. That translates to doing the right thing when no one is looking,” said Kirby.
The school program is designed to introduce golf to kids while seamlessly teaching the core values of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgement.
Some of the coaches are physical education teachers so their skills transfer easily into the program. “One of our coaches Nate Gammage is a pharmacist in Midland but was also an experienced coach with the First Tee in Louisville, Kentucky. Another lead coach is Kristi Seybert. She’s been teaching the First Tee NSP program at her school since it first started in 2017. Some of the other coaches and volunteers have played collegiate golf and coached at other First Tee chapters around the state.”
For the kids however, experience and equipment are not a requirement. “If kids have their own clubs, they can bring them. If they don’t have clubs, the chapter will provide a set of clubs sized appropriately for them. They can take the clubs home and use them anytime as long as they stay in the program. Thereafter and as they age and grow they can trade up to a larger set all at no additional cost.”
“The costs associated with golf whether it be with a green fee, buckets of range balls or golf equipment is not a barrier to joining First Tee. We make golf accessible, affordable and fun with little or no cost at all. That’s all on us.”
- Tony Farish | First Tee of West Texas Board President
- Tony Farish | First Tee of West Texas Board President
The organization strives to offer these opportunities to those who couldn’t afford them otherwise. “The costs associated with golf whether it be with a green fee, buckets of range balls or golf equipment is not a barrier to joining First Tee. We make golf accessible, affordable and fun with little or no cost at all. That’s all on us,” said Tony Farish, First Tee of West Texas Board President.
As kids advance, they could earn the opportunity to participate in some of the national programs. “There are scholarship opportunities and leadership programs sponsored by Coca-Cola., John Deere and the First Tee,” said Kirby. “Other opportunities include American Junior Golf Association Grants, United States Golf Association STEM Academy, A/B Honor Role, the First Tee National Par-3 Championship and the Pure Insurance Championship at Pebble Beach.”
First Tee research on the national level found that 80% of teens and alumni said that First Tee made them better students. 91% of alumni participated in community service while in First Tee. 90% of alumni consider themselves lifelong golfers. “We aren’t necessarily in the business to create professional golfers,” said Kirby. “The goal is to create young golfers who grow up to be good citizens.” To enroll in the program or volunteer, visit www.thefirstteewesttexas.org or call 432-242-2510. †