A local youth golf program is hoping to help more children learn the sport after being awarded a sizable grant from a national foundation dedicated to building communities and promoting positive change in people’s lives.
The First Tee of Tucson is receiving a $15,000 grant from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and the PGA TOUR Superstore to help continue the nonprofit organization’s mission of helping children and teens during critical development years. The funds are a part of the foundation’s nationwide $9.5 million grant to help The First Tee throughout the country.
Judy McDermott, the nonprofit’s executive director, said the money will go toward scholarships and equipment for local youth whose families may be experiencing financial difficulty during the pandemic. The First Tee Tucson is open to children age 5 to 17 and operates out of 10 locations in Pima County.
“We reach so many youth in our program that don’t really have the money to play other sports,” McDermott said. “The (grant) helps us offset the expenses because we’re always running at a deficiency of what it really costs to put a kid through the program.”
A one-year membership to the program costs $25 a year and includes golf lessons, a First Tee polo shirt and green fees. They’ll even set a child up with golf clubs if they’re unable to afford a set.
“If you really become a part of the program, we may even give you a set of clubs,” McDermott said. “We just make an arrangement that when you’re done with them you give them back so we can help another kid and move you up to a better set.”
McDermott said while the organization gives scholarships to those in need, they charge the annual fee so the participants feel like they have “skin in the game.”
“We don’t make money on what we charge. We really just charge something because it creates more value,”McDermott said. “If we gave away things for free, they might not value the program as much. We really subsidize what we’re doing.”
Francisco Felix has spent the past eight years of his life participating in the program. He joined the First Tee at six years old after a close relative passed away. The Pueblo High School freshman said what he has learned at The First Tee not only benefits his golf game, but has also taught the young man valuable life lessons.
“My grandparents signed me up and I enjoyed the game. I just stuck with it,” Felix said. “You learn core values like honesty, integrity, respect and life skills. Golf isn’t just a game, it can improve your personal life.”
In addition to enjoying time spent on the links, Felix said he also likes helping others find their passion for golf.
“When I get to help out those little kids, or help out anyone who is trying to learn to play golf, it brings a sort of warm feeling to me,” Felix said. “I may seem like I know a lot about (golf) but I’m still learning too. There’s always someone there that is going to help you and be with you.”
El Rio Golf Course is typically where Felix spends his time because it’s close to his home. The young man humbly said he has a “decent” game, but continues to work hard and learn all he can about the sport while helping others.
“Golf is fun and anyone can play it,” Felix said, “It doesn’t matter what your abilities are or what may be blocking you in life. I think playing (golf) makes you a better person.”
McDermott said The First Tee is in need of mentor volunteers this season due to the pandemic. While participants wear masks and social distance, many of their coaches are retirees and have had to take a step back due to their susceptibility to coronavirus.
“Because of the pandemic we have lost a lot of coaches and we haven’t been able to help as many kids as we would like to during this time, “McDermott said. “You really don’t need to be a pro at golf to become a coach.”
To find out more about The First Tee Tucson or to become a coach, check out www.firstteetucson.org.