I’d like to take a brief step aside from our usual shenanigans to tell you a little bit about a non-profit program that you NEED to know about and support. It’s called The First Tee of Memphis and even if you think you’re familiar with it, there’s a lot more to it than you think. The organization is now in its 21st year in Memphis and it has flown under the radar throughout its entire existence.
The program was founded in 1991 as the Mid-South Junior Golf Association by a man named Charles Hudson at Pine Hill Golf Course. He was managing the golf course and noticed how there were no African American youth playing the sport he loved, so he decided to do something about it. He created the program not just to teach golf, but because he wanted the area youth to learn a set of life skills that would transform the way they viewed the world.
Golf is a very different sport from every other sport out there. It has many life skills inherently built into the game. For example, you call penalties on yourself in golf. You don’t have a referee constantly watching your every move. Integrity and honesty are things you have to practice on every shot.
Mr. Hudson also taught etiquette that is transferable to other areas of life. His youth learned to tuck their shirts in, take their hats off inside, look people in the eye and give a firm handshake. These are the types of things that seem silly and obvious when you grow up in suburbia, but for the inner-city youth of the program, most of this was new.
Then, in 1997, something major happened. A young emerging Tiger Woods agreed to host six youth clinics around the country and Memphis landed one of the coveted spots. That’s right, Tiger Woods came to South Memphis’ own Pine Hill Golf Course. This created a major boom in the inner-city of young African American students who wanted a chance to see Tiger Woods. Over 5,000 kids from the area showed up for the chance to meet Tiger.
This visit drew major national attention, and in 1998 when the national First Tee organization was starting up, they invited the Mid-South Junior Golf Association to become one of the founding chapters of The First Tee, thus creating The First Tee of Memphis.
The program’s mission is simple:
“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.”
Again, golf is just the platform used to reach the youth. The First Tee is not a golf academy. It’s all about building the future generation of leaders and role models. Today there are over 225 chapters of The First Tee nationally. However, The First Tee of Memphis is a very unique chapter for many reasons.
The First Tee national organization was founded to teach youth who would not normally have the opportunity to play golf and learn the life skills inherent in game. It’s essentially Mr. Hudson’s Mid-South Junior Golf Association on a national level. Many First Tee chapters don’t exactly do what the program was designed for though. Many are based out of country clubs and TPC courses.
The First Tee of Memphis is located in a depressed part of town called “New Chicago” in North Memphis. They reach out to the kids that live in the same neighborhood as the recent Oscar winning documentary Undefeated. However, it’s not just for those kids in Memphis either. The organization works hard to have a very diverse blend of youth from all racial and economic backgrounds.
Think about it. What can an impoverished youth learn from only working with other impoverished youth? Not a lot. They have the same story. They have similar life experiences. By blending a myriad of backgrounds, youth are afforded the opportunity to learn from each other. Maybe some learn to be more grateful for the things they have, while others have a chance to see that there are more options in the world other than just their one bedroom house with six siblings. When you expose children to these things at an early age it transforms the way they approach situations the rest of their lives. That is what The First Tee of Memphis is all about.
In addition to the standard golf program, The First Tee of Memphis does more outside outreach than any other First Tee program in the system as well. They partner with other non-profits such as the United Way, Boys and Girls Club, Girls Inc., etc. to provide programming at NO COST to their youth. They even do a free program for youth in juvenile lockup.
The First Tee of Memphis also does things other First Tee’s don’t do such as hosting a golf club building class for neighborhood youth. Teaching them a trade at an early age that could open up many career opportunities in the future. They are also starting a turf grass training program for more youth in the neighborhood to open their eyes to the many different possibilities out there for them.
And do you know what all this costs families? It’s $55 for each nine-week session. You can’t get one golf lesson anywhere for $55, much less nine weeks of golf and life skill training. Many students are on scholarship as well for families who can’t afford the cost. It costs the organization over $600 per child they have and charge families less than 10% of that.
However, to be able to do all these great things, The First Tee of Memphis relies heavily on donations and fundraising events. To be blunt, they don’t receive anything close to the same level of fundraising support many other non-profits receive. There is a major misconception that the organization is funded by the PGA Tour and the USGA, but that is far from the case. The First Tee of Memphis hasn’t broken even in several years and some of the programming is being threatened.
So this is where you can come into play.
Maybe you aren’t able to give a financial gift, but you may know someone who can. Maybe you don’t play golf, but you know someone who would be willing to volunteer a little time as a coach/mentor. The program is on the verge of some major things with a significant, long-term impact on many youth, but they need your help to get there!
For perspective, $55 allows a youth to be on scholarship for a session. $220 covers them for a whole year. It doesn’t take a whole lot to make a difference.
They also have a fundraising event on April 9th called The Day After The Masters at Mirimichi Golf Course. Basically, you just come out and play an awesome course for either $135 per person or $500 for a foursome. By just playing golf, this helps sustain the program. It’s truly a win-win.
Even if you can’t help financially and don’t know anyone who is interested in serving as a mentor, something as simple as sharing this post on Facebook and/or Twitter or whatever else you crazy kids are on these days could lead to someone who can. PLEASE pass the word along about the program and help them continue to change kids lives.