First Tee

Increasing female participation through First Tee – Canada

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According to the Canadian Women & Sport National Study, one in three girls will drop out of sports by adolescence – three times more likely than boysand over 60 percent of adolescent girls are not participating in any kind of sport. Some of the most common barriers preventing girls from trying, and staying, in sports are low confidence, not feeling welcomed, and perceived lack of skill.

That is where First Tee – Canada steps in. 

First Tee is delivered in three settings—golf courses, schools, and community centres, with over 70 percent of programming offered at no cost to participants. The goal is to introduce children, especially those who may have otherwise not had the chance or interest, to golf, and through a life-skills-focused curriculum, foster the continued development of skills like confidence and perseverance.

First Tee – Canada has six chapters operating programming in every province. Since launching in 2021, over 80,000 Canadian youth have been introduced to golf through First Tee – Canada. In 2023, nearly 40 percent of participants identified as female and nearly 50 percent identified as BIPOC.

What sets First Tee apart from other junior golf programming is not its focus on building life and golf skills simultaneously, instead, it is the effort made in communities to provide accessible and inviting pathways to the sport for equity-deserving groups including girls, BIPOC communities, newcomers, and individuals with exceptionalities and disabilities.

First Tee staff are intentional when onboarding new program locations and forming relationships with community organizations that serve the surrounding communities.

“Our goal is to build a community hub of First Tee programming offered at a golf course and nearby schools and community centres,” said First Tee – Ontario Program Manger, Amaya Athill. “Most of the time, we are responsible for a child’s first time on a golf course. We partner with a community organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters or a school in an identified deserving area and host ‘try-golf’ events for children to create a positive association to the sport.”

In 2023, First Tee – Canada held nearly 200 chapter-led events including try-golf days or school field trips, some of which were all-girls events, including participants and coaches.

“These events are so important,” said Athill. “We are striving to ensure folks, especially those in underrepresented groups, feel golf is a sport for them. We found that hosting all-girls events helps break down barriers that would typically prevent girls from trying golf. It is an even playing field where most, if not all participants are trying golf for the first time, they are surrounded by positive female coaches and role models, and most importantly the focus is to just have fun.”

On the east coast, First Tee – Atlantic plans to host at least one all-girls event per Atlantic province this summer with all-female coaches and volunteers. Emily Nickerson, First Tee – Atlantic Program Coordinator is spearheading this chapter’s initiative.

She plans to collaborate with organizations to introduce golf and incorporate a workshop or activity outside of golf, too. For example, First Tee – Atlantic has partnered with She is Active New Brunswick, which will provide a confidence-building exercise for the participants during their event(s) in NB. Additionally, Nickerson’s goal for these events is to ensure the girls leave excited to try golf again. She hopes to provide more participation opportunities through First Tee programming or range passes to courses in their area, for example.

“Best case scenario, a few girls enjoy themselves so much they enroll in other First Tee programming, continuing to develop their skills and become golfers for life,” said Nickerson. “Or the girls learn something new about themselves, they meet a new friend, have a coach to look up to, or apply what they learned to another sport or at school. Any of that is still a win in my books. If we can make a positive impact on even one girl and encourage her to stick with golf or any sport, I’m happy.”

That is where First Tee – Canada stands out. It is a program led by staff, coaches and volunteers who understand the power of sports and believe that every child deserves the opportunity to try golf, to believe they fit in, and trust there is space for them in the sport.  

“This is more than a golf program,” said Nickerson. “It’s changing the future of golf. I hope one day, you won’t feel judged being a woman on the golf course. Judged for playing ‘too slow’, what you’re wearing, or how your swing looks ‘for a girl’. I hope through First Tee and our focus on female participation, we are paving the way for a more inclusive and comfortable environment for girls and women in golf.”