Kevin Blue doesn’t hesitate when asked to provide his best “elevator pitch” about the First Tee—Canada program. (An elevator pitch is a concise, easy-to-understand summary of a concept.)
“First Tee—Canada will provide a welcoming environment for kids from all Canadian backgrounds to learn golf and the associated life skills that go along with the sport,” says Blue, Golf Canada’s Chief Sport Officer.
Since its unveiling in August 2020, First Tee—Canada’s purpose of “Building Game Changers” doesn’t only refer to the game of golf.
“First Tee introduces the game of golf and its inherent values to young people,” the program launch press release stated. “Through after-school and in-school programs, we help shape the lives of young people from all walks of life by reinforcing values like integrity, respect and perseverance.
It’s long overdue, but golf has recently taken an assertive approach to increase equity and inclusivity in the game. First Tee—Canada focuses on creating welcoming introductory experiences to golf for youth, with particular emphasis on reaching communities that have been traditionally underrepresented in the sport. The possibilities are endless, and PGA of Canada CEO Kevin Thistle is excited about it.
Thistle says First Tee—Canada provides PGA members with an incredible opportunity to “deliver this amazing platform to a diverse range of young golfers and to dispel many of the stereotypes that have traditionally been associated with golf. This (program) is the perfect vehicle because it aligns so perfectly with our association’s values.”
Harold Varner III, who recently finished in the top 25 in his Masters debut, is an ambassador for RBC Community Junior Golf in support of First Tee – Canada. RBC, in partnership with Golf Canada, will implement First Tee – Canada programming at municipal and publicly accessible golf courses across the country. First Tee locations supported by RBC Community Junior Golf are chosen with a purposeful lens, focused on building greater diversity and equity in golf, thus creating “hubs” of accessible public golf courses, schools, and community centres in underserved communities.
“I understand the positive impact sport can have on a young person’s life. It can open doors and present opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available,” said Varner.
Still, in its relative infancy, First Tee – Canada is rolling out gradually in communities across the country. The goal is to launch First Tee – Canada Chapters in every region of the country by the end of 2022 and to enroll 100,000 participants in First Tee programming by 2024. Current chapters in operation include British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
As with most nonprofit programs, expansion is dependent on funding. Since the program launched, more than $8M in pledges have been raised in support of First Tee – Canada including major chapter-founding gifts to jump-start the program.
“First Tee—Canada is funded largely through philanthropic contributions,” Blue emphasizes. “It is dependent on the generosity of individuals and companies. It’s really gratifying to see how many have stepped up because they believe in diversifying the sport.”
Since its inception in 1997 in the United States, First Tee has impacted more than 15 million young people through its character-building programs on golf courses, in schools and at youth-serving locations.
The network has grown to more than 150 chapters and more than 1,200 program locations across the U.S. as well as international chapters in Australia, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco and now Canada.
While the all-encompassing program is centred around golf, that activity is just part of the experience aimed at strengthening character by teaching life skills that will last forever. These include understanding and managing emotions, resolving conflicts, setting up step-by-step goals, planning for their future, and appreciating diversity.
First Tee—Canada is open to youth of all ages and skill levels. Kids as young as five are welcome to participate. The goal is, after being introduced to the program, juniors will advance through various stages of the program up until 18, where they will begin to set goals around career and education.
First Tee programming will be delivered at schools, community centres, and golf courses with specifically designed curriculum and coach training for each of these environments. The PGA of Canada’s robust training framework ensures all Canadian coaches are well equipped to deliver First Tee.
First Tee—Canada may help develop better golfers in the future but, much more importantly, it will give us better people.
Golf Canada and the Golf Canada Foundation continue to work with prospective donors who wish to support First Tee nationwide programming. For more information on First Tee—Canada, how to get involved or to donate, visit www.firstteecanada.ca