On a cool but sunny day at the Boys & Girls Club of East Texas’ Wee Links Course, a young man approaches this reporter, extends his hand and says, “Hello, Mr. Hicks. I’m Leroy Sparrow. It’s very nice to meet you.”
The 9-year-old Caldwell Elementary student just incorporated two of the nine core values The First Tee of Greater Tyler teaches — courtesy and respect.
“We try to use the nine core values every day,” said Sparrow, a fifth-grader at Caldwell Elementary School. “We use it at school … at home with our parents … all the time.
“I love everything about the First Tee.”
What started as a concept to make golf more accessible to young people turned into an opportunity to help young people develop core values and learn life skills that are inherent in the game of golf, said Michael Harrison, executive director of The First Tee of Greater Tyler.
He added the program is for children ages 7 to 18. The cost is $30, which is an activity fee that includes all materials and equipment while allowing members to participate in The First Tee Life Skills Program with access to the golf courses at discounted junior rates.
There also are scholarships available so all children, regardless of socio-economic backgrounds, may participate. The First Tee of Greater Tyler does not receive national monies and all the money raised or donated to the program stays in Tyler.
“With my experience and background as a golf professional for 20 years, I have a love and passion for the game of golf and what the game can bring to an individual,” Harrison said. “The game of golf is embedded with core values which are the primary building blocks for the First Tee.
“With these core values we are able to teach children to learn about those core values using the game of golf in each lesson. That is why I love it is the core values it brings and give opportunities to young men like Leroy to learn what golf is all about so he can develop a lifelong sport and a love for the game like I was able to acquire. Helping kids and others learn these values is why I consider golf to be the greatest game of all.”
Community leader Andrew Meltontree, a former board member, is a big booster of the program.
“I see the value of this activity for our kids, notwithstanding the physical activity because they have a boundless energy, but it teaches the core values that are essential for making their way through life,” Melontree said.
“Also, it brought our golfing communities today.”
Melontree added the philanthropy of Tylerites have been key to the program thriving as well as the leadership of Harrison and Christian Sarran, program director.
Young Leroy said he first learned about the First Tee on a family vacation in San Antonio. He asked his parents, Leroy and Roylena Sparrow, if he could get involved. Mrs. Sparrow looked up The First Tee of Greater Tyler on line and enrolled her children, young Leroy and his sister, Kileitha, 8, a second grader at Caldwell. Their youngest son, Lance, 4, is anxious to get involved in the program.
“The First Tee has been great for our whole family not only for our two children who are active participants, but it has helped my husband and me because we were novices to golf,” Mrs. Sparrow said. “It has helped us learn the game and play golf as a family.”
Mrs. Sparrow added she is elated with the program.
“I recommend for any parents who are looking to motivate your children academically as well as socially going into the First Tee,” she said. “Academically, you can teach your children on the golf course. If you are having a tough time on a hole you have to persevere and finish the hole regardless. That is the same thing with the STAAR test or anything you are doing in school. If the grade is not what you want it to be, you have to persevere to change that grade to what you want it to be.”
Her son added, “It helps you in life as you go … like judgment — what to eat and what not to eat. If someone makes a better grade than I do, I say ‘good job’ and I don’t blow up like someone else in my class would do.
“I love playing golf too because I get to see my friends sometimes and they help me and we encourage each other.”
Harrison said the First Tee Life Skills Experience was formulated with the help of academic, sport psychology, youth development and golf experts to proactively teach core values and life skills as part of basic golf instruction at chapters.
And the mission statement of The First Tee of Greater Tyler 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.
The core values include honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
Two local golf professionals — Peach Tree Golf Club’s Darrell Chase and Willow Brook Country Club’s Chris Hudson — are big advocates of junior golf and volunteer their time to the First Tee.
“The First Tee is a wonderful experience for all children,” said Darrell Chase, the PGA club professional at Peach Tree-Oak Hurst in Bullard who volunteers countless hours to the program along with Willow Brook Country Club pro Chris Hudson. “The partnership between The First Tee with Peach Tree, Pine Springs and the Boys & Girls club is win-win for everyone, especially the kids.
“The First Tee is not necessarily a golf development program; The First Tee uses golf to teach life lessons. At the end of each class, we meet under the pavilion to recap the day’s lesson.”
Chase continued, “On our scoreboard I have a quote from Arnold Palmer that says: ‘Everything that I ever needed to know about life, I learned from golf.’ Under that I have the nine core values listed.
“The beginning curriculum (the Player class) offers exercise, games, the life lessons, healthy eating practices, several aspects of the golf game, and lots of fun. As the children progress to more advanced classes (Par class, then Birdie, and eventually the Eagle class) the golf curriculum does get more specific. The best part of the program is that the kids have a lot of fun while learning a little bit about golf and learn a lot about how to be better citizens.”
Ron Watts’ daughter, Annaka, a sixth-grader at Cumberland Academy, is involved in the program.
“I’ve always played around with golf and we’ve always been fans of golf,” Watts said. “It was natural we introduce our daughter to the game of golf — not with the intentions of her going at it like she has been — she has excelled and done quite well. We wanted to expose her to it not only for the sports end of it, but for the life skills of it as well.
“She is making better decisions at home and at school and on the course. What the game of golf teaches is incredible — it’s not just about golf, but about life in general. This is an incredible chapter for the kids and families. We are blessed to have this program in Tyler. It has been incredible for us as a family.”
Harrison added the program is now in 17 Tyler Independent School District and five Whitehouse ISD elementary and middle schools.
The organization works with Physical Education teachers at each school and gets the children involved. He said other schools are looking to join the program. He said the people Whitehouse had a fundraising golf tournament so they could purchase the equipment.
For more details about the facility and programs, contact the First Tee of Greater Tyler offices at 903-806-2809 or e-mail Sarran at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to be a sponsor, contact Harrison email@example.com