First Tee celebrates 25 years of teaching life skills through golf

When First Tee-Phoenix alum Kaitlynn Criswell was 10, she saw a group of kids playing parachute at the Longbow Golf Club in Mesa. Even though she didn’t know what the organization was, she knew she wanted to join.

“At the time I was there they were parachuting,” Criswell said. “…I was like, ‘Dad, that sounds like fun.’ I literally told him, I was like, ‘I want to get involved in this organization.’ I didn’t know what it was at the time.

What Criswell thought was just a youth event at Longbow turned out to be First Tee-Phoenix – an organization dedicated to teaching children in the community life skills through golf.

While improving her golf game throughout her childhood, Criswell said she also learned essential life skills through the First Tee-Phoenix program.

“At the end of each level, we always had a discussion about core values ​​and what you would do in the course with, respect, perseverance, and do off course with respect, perseverance, integrity, like all that, Criswell said. “They were asking us to give us an example of how you can use respect in a classroom or at home.”

Children practice at the First Tee Phoenix 100 Hole Putt-A-Thon at the Legacy Golf Resort on June 11, 2022 in Phoenix, AZ.

First Tee-Phoenix is ​​just one of approximately 150 branches worldwide. The Phoenix branch is expected to celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2023. Over the past 19 years, First Tee-Phoenix General Manager Erin McDonough estimated that more than 150,000 children have come through First Tee-Phoenix’s community and school programs. Phoenix Tee.

As First National Tee turns 25 this year, McDonough said teaching life skills is an integral part of the organization. First Tee has nine core values: Honesty, Integrity, Sportsmanship, Respect, Judgment, Trust, Responsibility, Perseverance and Courtesy.

“The founders really saw that, and if somebody’s played golf, they have to have persistence and sportsmanship and honesty and all those essential pieces,” McDonough said. “I think they saw that it was something good that they wanted to pass on to young people and it went from there.”

First National Tee used child development specialists to develop a specific program for young golfers moving up the ranks, McDonough said. The organization’s core programming begins at age 7, but children can enroll at any age.

Volunteer caddies watch the 100-hole Putt-a-Thon at Legacy Golf Resort on June 11, 2022 in Phoenix, AZ.

All young golfers new to the organization start at the rank of PLAYER to learn about the First Tee Code of Conduct and the basics of golf. From there golfers move on to Par, Birdie, Eagle and Ace. Each grade has specific life skills to learn, including resilience, conflict resolution, self-management, and giving back to the community.

Shane Ishmael joined First-Tee Phoenix in 2016 after a classmate introduced him to the program, his mother, Petrina, said. Now, at 17, Shane has worked on life skills from the First Tee to becoming an Eagle.

“It’s helped him become a lot more comfortable talking with adults and also with, like, a crowd,” Petrina said. “He’s been in a few tournaments, so he kind of learned to drive himself and learned some really valuable skills.”

Shane took part in the 100-hole Putt-a-Thon on Saturday morning as part of the First Tee’s summer lineup. First Tee-Phoenix will host two camps per week during the summer for children. The organization will also offer weekly preparation for two end-of-summer tournaments: the Rising Star and the Kloenne Cup.

Shane Ishmael, 17, putts at the First Tee Phoenix 100-Hole Putt-a-Thon at Legacy Golf Resort on June 11, 2022, in Phoenix, AZ.

To prepare for summer and year-round programming, First-Tee Phoenix relies on volunteers, parents and paid coaches to help run various youth events.

“We have amazing coaches who are dedicated to teaching these nine life skills and also helping kids become great golfers,” said Pete Kuehner, First Tee-Phoenix Board Treasurer. “…We’ve had some very good players, but the most important thing is to first learn the lessons of life at a young age so that we can take them into adulthood.”

After graduating from high school, Criswell left the First Tee-Phoenix program to attend college and play golf at Minot State University in North Dakota. But Criswell said she couldn’t stay away from her “second family”.

So, she became a coach for First Tee-Phoenix after graduating from college and returned to the Valley.

“When I was growing up, it was my second family,” Criswell said. “Like, you’d have everyone you know, you know every one of the coaches, every one of the students, and it would be like a giant second big family for you. So, I mean, that’s what really got to me. brought back, the family aspect.

Although Criswell has extensive golf experience, First Tee-Phoenix doesn’t require its coaches to be accomplished golfers – it just wants people who have an affection for helping kids develop life skills.

“[The coaches are] someone who lives the values ​​that make golf special,” McDonough said. “It’s that perseverance, that sportsmanship, that honesty and integrity, just character in general. So we try to make sure that we hire people who bring that forward and teach kids by example. They must have a passion for youth sports They must have a passion for improving the lives of children and having a passion for golf is a bonus.

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