By Rachel Schreibstein
This year marks the 20th anniversary of The First Tee, a nationwide organization dedicated to instilling values and teaching necessary life skills through the game of golf, with a focus on serving minority and underprivileged youth.
According to The First Tee’s website, golf teaches players key values like honesty and responsibility, whether it be by keeping one’s own score or admitting to a missed swing. Honesty and responsibility are just two of the Nine Core Values taught at The First Tee, and these values can be utilized on and off the golf course.
The lessons learned through The First Tee can be life-changing for its participants. Former member of The First Tee of Sacramento, California Michael Mahlberg used the life skills and core values he learned from The First Tee to cope with the traumatic event of sexual abuse. After winning many golf tournaments when he was younger, Mahlberg stumbled upon The First Tee while looking for a new tournament league to participate in. He chose The First Tee because he liked the idea of teaching core values through golf.
“They teach things like honesty and respect, which is something I hold near and dear to me every day,” he said.
The First Tee was Mahlberg’s favorite tournament league, partly due to the laid-back environment and the community there overall.
“They have done so much for me time in and time out. I have learned and grown so much because of them and because of things I’ve learned through the program,” Mahlberg added.
The First Tee is not only enjoyable for its participants, but for its volunteers as well. Jericho father-son duo Lee S. and Lance S. were looking for a volunteer opportunity, preferably related to golf, that also involved working with children and found that The First Tee checked off all of those boxes. Father Lee S. described what his experiences as a volunteer were like.
“It started with helping them prep the driving range for the season early last March, pulling the equipment out of the shed, cleaning the equipment, and setting up the range,” he said.
Aside from being a volunteer, son and Jericho senior Lance S. also participated in some of The First Tee’s classes where he was able to learn about parts of the golf game and valuable life skills. Throughout his involvement in the program, Lance S. has recognized the humbling impact The First Tee has on its participants.
“It’s almost like a weekend home for a lot of these kids who are there all weekend, either taking classes or volunteering, and it’s kind of like a second family for a lot of them,” he said.
The First Tee has various locations all over the country, but the closest location to Jericho is located at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. The First Tee of Nassau County Program Director Justin Koff has been involved in the program since he was 13 years old. He was hired as program director after graduating from Clemson University in 2011.
“I have been designated as The First Tee coach and that’s where my true passion is,” Koff said.
He runs many different aspects of the program, including hiring and training staff, coaching participants, organizing special events and “dealing with the day-to-day operations of the program.” Koff believes that The First Tee is such a powerful program because participants can carry the lessons they have learned with them throughout their entire lives.
Although winter is upon us, that doesn’t stop The First Tee. They still offer after-school programs for participants to complete schoolwork and improve their golf skills at the same time, along with “swing classes” at local PGA Superstores, where participants can use the indoor simulators. Even though it may be too cold to play outside, The First Tee still provides many opportunities for its participants to get their golf fix in the winter.