EUGENE, Ore. — Driving. Chipping. Putting. Those are three simple things that kids learn in The First Tee, along with the program’s core values that include courtesy, confidence and respect.
“Respect is huge and to be able to convey that message to the kids and then give them a place to apply it, then it becomes part of their life,” Eugene First Tee lead coach Dennis Nakata.
First Tee is an international youth organization aimed at developing kids through golf.
“We communicate, we connect and we care,” Nakata, who is also the head coach at Sheldon High School, said. “There’s something special that happens. It’s a neat transformation that we see.”
“I’ve watched these kids grow from little 6-year-olds to 12, 13, 14-year-olds and they’ve just really learned the life skills,” volunteer coach Jacque Heiden said.
“It’s probably changed my life,” 14-year-old student Madalyn Ardueser said. “I went form being shy and in this little box to now I’ll just talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime.
“It’s not just about golf,” 11-year-old Jacob Pifer said. “It’s about life skills and everything you can use not only in golf but out of golf in school and in life.”
“On the course, they teach you about replacing divots and marking your ball and respecting the actual course,” 12-year-old Carter Helikson said. “And off the course at school they teach you to respect your teachers and other classmates.”
Classmates at The First Tee come in different ages, sizes and smiles. Students with different backgrounds united by the game of golf.
The program also has parents happy helping kids stay active and also teaching skills that can be applied away from sports.
“He does a lot better at saying ‘yes’ and ‘thank you’ so I think yes I have seen improvement than if he had just been left at home to watch T.V.” parent Joanna Jaquette said.
“One of the simplest things they’ve taught him is looking someone in the eye when he meets them to take off his hat and shake his hand,” parent Bobbie Plummer said.
Like life, golf sometimes doesn’t go as planned. But students at The First Tee are learning lessons that can help them stay the course for years to come.
“I love this game ’cause you can play it since you’re really young until the day you die,” Pifer said.
“I believe it’s a memory that will stay with me forever,” Ardueser said. “I hope to stay involved with The First Tee as long as I can whether it’s coaching, helping, donating or participating.”
“A very small percentage are going to go through and play in the PGA Tour and make golf a living,” Nakata said. “But they can also learn about teaching and giving back and making again those good choices passed college and who knows maybe they can come back around and be a First Tee coach and give back to their community. That’d be pretty cool.”
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