Chronicle Sports Editor John Boyette recently wrote about two young participants of the First Tee of Augusta program, Nellie Brunson and Jason Murphy.
We’d simply like to add: Wow!
The 17-year-olds, who spoke at a First Tee luncheon, were two of the finest young people you’d ever meet. Nellie’s poise and firm handshake, so uncharacteristic of someone so young, was of particular note since she described having been very shy before encountering First Tee.
We were also struck by hearing her describe, as one speaks of a personal tragedy, the move of a coach and mentor at First Tee to another city. That’s the impact the program has had on her.
As for Jason – well, he just looks like a golfer, but might never have become one if his mom hadn’t steered him toward the sport and First Tee hadn’t nudged him along. The result: He recently played famed Pebble Beach at a national First Tee event, where he was paired with 1987 Masters champion and native Augustan Larry Mize.
First Tee Executive Director Jill Brown also spoke of several other youths whose lives were improved by brushes with First Tee – and not just because of exposure to a great and dignified game. One young boy was hanging around the program’s six-hole course and learning facility near Daniel Field one day, and when closing time came and went and the boy was still there, he confessed to being afraid to return to an abusive home.
He’d heard that First Tee was a safe place.
It’s a nurturing place, too, for thousands of Augusta-area youth. Since its founding in 2001, the program has served more than 10,000. It offers golf and life skill classes, free school-day programming for three Title I schools with at-risk populations, summer camps, free clinics for Scout troops and other organizations and physical education components in 39 schools in Richmond and Burke counties.
About 56 percent of those served last year were minorities.
Again, it is about so much more than golf.
The values of golf are lessons for every aspect of life. The First Tee program emphasizes Nine Core Values: courtesy, respect, judgment, responsibility, sportsmanship, confidence, honesty, integrity and perseverance.
In short, everybody wins – the youth, of course, but also their families and friends and society as a whole.
And if these kids learn nothing else at Jill Brown’s place, they learn that someone cares about them. Deeply.
“I am most proud of the caring, nurturing and safe environment that we have created at The First Tee of Augusta,” she told the luncheon. “The First Tee of Augusta is like a big family where we encourage students to do their best, hold them accountable for their behavior and choices, and have high expectations for their success.”
The expectations often extend to adults: The First Tee six-hole course – which can be played as cheaply as $8 – expects gentlemen to remove their hats when they enter the clubhouse.
It is rare these days, outside of the military, to find a place with such unbending, but uplifting, expectations.
And few youth programs are better at giving kids a shot in life.