Henry Jones, Jim Hurley and Willie Redford all have a passion for golf, young people and volunteering.
The First Tee of Greater Tyler combines those three interests, and the program has become another passion for the trio and others in the community.
“After I retired, I was looking around for ways I could volunteer,” Jones said. “I have been a golfer for a while and I read Tyler was going to open a First Tee Chapter. I had seen on TV some of the Champions Tour’s tournaments at Pebble Beach where they have the First Tee and the advertisements about First Tee.”
Reading about the program, and seeing how the First Tee works, inspired Jones to see what he could do to help.
“I called Christian Sarran (First Tee program director) and volunteered my time,” said Jones, who also volunteers at Trinity Mother Frances Hospital, The Salvation Army and with the Gideons. “Anybody who loves golf and loves kids — this is a wonderful opportunity.”
During the fall and spring sessions, volunteers spend about three hours per week, while in the summer there are more opportunities two or three times a week.
Jones, Hurley and Redford all said it is not just about golf in The First Tee of Greater Tyler, which began in 2011. Michael Harrison, executive director, said the program has grown from 10 participants to more than 300.
“There has been a great response from not only the young people and parents, but just as importantly, from the community in terms of support,” Hurley said. “It has been a wonderful experience. Golf, in some respects, is like life. It requires you to think and plan, creates a value system such as honesty and integrity. All of these applications give a good formation for young people.”
Redford was a tennis player before knee and back problems forced him to look at other recreational sports. Harrison was the golf pro at Hollytree Country Club at the time and introduced Redford to the game he now plays two or three times a week.
When he moved to Hideaway 37 years ago, Redford, who has been the Patriot Golf Classic chairman several times and volunteers with Meals On Wheels, started a Young Life program because “we have seen what Christian ethics and core values will do for young people. The First tee is perfect for that.”
Harrison and Sarran said you do not have to be a great golfer to volunteer. They said the First Tee is “always grateful to anyone who wishes to volunteer their time.”
Areas include coaches, mentors and administration. Also, Harrison said there are lesson plans and information for the volunteers to help guide them through sessions.
Jones is a volunteer assistant coach. During class periods, the volunteer coaches different stations for the golf skills. During these lessons, they incorporate the core values of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
The volunteering is very rewarding, the three said.
“I love it,” Jones said. “You see the improvements in the kids’ life skills and their golf game. You see kids come in who are shy and really not very outgoing at the beginning of the sessions. After six or eight weeks, those kids have opened up and you will see them out in town or church somewhere, and before they would be a shy kid and be slinking over to the side, but now they will walk up, shake your hand and say ‘how are you doing?’”
Hurley added, “This has been a very gratifying experience for me. It’s enriching to see the kids learn something and walk away with something I think is of great value.”
Jones said volunteers are needed.
“We need volunteers,” he said. “If you like golf and you like kids, you will love this. And you don’t have to be a good golfer.”
He did, however, say he shaved a couple of strokes off his game, too.
For information about volunteering, go towww.thefirstteegreatertyler.org or call Sarran at 903-806-2809.