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Teeing up to learn core values

First Tee program prepares young golfers for links and life
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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Building on the belief that sports has the ability to prepare young athletes for the game of life as well as the activity on the playing surface, the First Tee program is making a difference for thousands of aspiring young players in the Sacramento area. With PGA chief Tim Finchem and George Bush, Sr. as two of its founders, First Tee has grown considerably since its 1997 launch. There are currently more than 2,000 players in the First Tee of Greater Sacramento branch. The branch is also one of just 10 to have a Junior Tour with tournaments spanning the summer months all over the region. “The Junior group is just one of our programs,” said Terry Privott, who heads the Sacramento chapter of First Tee. “The tournaments are a nice benefit, but we don’t care if our golfers shoot 69 or 169. What we do care about is that they follow the rules, are good sports, and are honest.” The real meat behind the First Tee program is not its golf instruction, which is outstanding, but its teaching of nine core values - honesty, integrity, respect, courtesy, confidence, judgment, responsibility, perseverance and sportsmanship. With a curriculum developed in partnership with the Stanford Research Institute, First Tee instructors focus on developing strong character in the athletes they train. Participants must be actively involved in volunteer work in their communities, and as they progress through the program, they also become teachers to the younger players who come along. The First Tee is open to youngsters beginning at age five. “When we talk about your course today,” Privott said, “we are not talking about a country club – we want to know how you did in Algebra or Geometry. When we ask about your score, we are looking for 3.9 or 4.0.” First Tee has a certification program that Privott says is similar to the Boy Scouts. Athletes progress from par to birdie to eagle and finally to ace as they master the core values. In the end, it is that part of the program that is its main focus. “I was a Boy Scout,” said Doug Noda, whose daughter Ashley is involved with First Tee. “That program provides great modeling to teach young men how to contribute in their community. First Tee is very similar to that. It helps kids grow up in the right fashion.” “No one will ever be asked to leave the program because they are a bad golfer,” Privott said. “This is more about character than about golf. The golf keeps them having fun and keeps them coming back. These are wonderful kids.” While the life skills learned through participation in First Tee are valuable off the course and throughout the life of these young golfers, they also help them as they develop their game on the course. “The core values teach you how to get through obstacles,” said 15-year-old participant Ashley Noda. “Learning to deal with challenges and set goals are a big part of what we learn. You use all of the core values on the course as you work on getting through the bad shots.” “First Tee is not really swing stuff,” said Granite Bay golfer Alex Gibbs. “It teaches you a good mental game, and in golf, that is everything. First Tee teaches you how to make good friends and teaches course etiquette and the focus to play well.” As in life, golf is a game that is filled with misfires and bad breaks, but through the First Tee training, young golfers are given tools for dealing with adversity. “I have learned to keep a good attitude towards the bad things that happen on the course,” Gibbs said. “I tell myself ‘that will happen’ and I move on.”