First Tee of the Lehigh Valley

First Tee of the Lehigh Valley

Golf can be many things. For some, it’s a passion; for others, it’s a livelihood, a road to doing business, a hobby. (And Mark Twain supposedly called it “a good walk, spoiled.”)

But for The First Tee of the Lehigh Valley and Berks County (FTLV), golf is the perfect vehicle for imparting valuable lessons to young players, preparing them for the all-important game of life.

The national First Tee program began in 1997, as a partnership among the Ladies Professional Golf Association, the Masters Tournament, the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, the PGA Tour, and the United States Golf Association. It was intended to promote the game to non-playing youth—but it soon became apparent that the sport’s rules applied to many life and leadership skills.

The idea caught on; today there are First Tee chapters in every U.S. state and several international spots, and millions of kids and teens pass through the program each year.

The Lehigh Valley chapter began in 2000 as “Embrace Your Dreams,” a local group that taught youth tennis at Jordan Park in Allentown. That organization connected with First Tee around 2004, said FTLV executive director Fred Keller, and offered a combination of tennis and golf.

Over time, the tennis aspect faded away, and the group adopted its current name in 2018. FTLV now offers summer programs at golf courses, as well as after-school programs during the spring and fall throughout its service area.

“National research has shown that kids who participate in these programs do better in school, have higher graduation rates, and participate in more community activities,” Keller said. “We teach the basics of golf, but our real intent is to mold better people by promoting First Tee’s nine core values,” Keller said those ideals include honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment.

Rick Kline, FTLV board president and owner of Sittler Golf Center in Sinking Spring, explained that golf is an excellent vehicle to help instill these values. “In football or baseball, there are umpires, referees, and scorekeepers to oversee the game. But when you play golf, you’re the only one that enforces the rules.” Thus, each player reflects honesty by accurately recording the score; judgment when evaluating the next shot; perseverance during a difficult round; and all these values transfer to everyday life.

FTLV’s core audience is youth aged 8 to 18, but the biggest group is made up of 8-to-12-year-olds. In its early days, the program focused on inner-city kids but, in keeping with its mission—“To impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values, and promote healthy choices through the game of golf”—it has become much more diverse.

“We run our programs at various golf courses and country clubs,” Keller said, “such as Manor Golf Club in Sinking Spring, Allentown Municipal, Sittler Golf Center, the Bethlehem Golf Club and Riverview Country Club. And our participants at each location come from its surrounding area. Everyone is welcome to sign up.”

There are two four-week sessions during the summer months, and students in each receive at least 20 hours of basic golf instruction; the core values are woven throughout the lessons—while walking to the next tee, setting up a shot, or as a wrap-up discussion.

Although the program fee is $120 per session, “Part of the registration process includes household-income information,” Keller said. “When appropriate, The First Tee will provide students with the gear they need to participate.” He added that up to 75% of the summer-program participants are fully subsidized.

Kline has also coached for the program, and said, “I’ve worked with kids from all walks of life, and it’s rewarding to watch them grow and mature. I’ve seen some of them come back years later to work with us.”

One of them is 14-year-old A. J. Moncman. He’d participated in golf camps prior to First Tee, but his experience with that program has been special.

“I learned about playing, and about the core values. But the main benefit to me has been interacting with different people. At my school, we all live in the same area and have the same background,” he said. “With First Tee, though, I met people from different schools and different areas.

“I’m not old enough to be an assistant coach, but my mom [Kim Moncman] has helped start First Tee branches at Marvine and Clearview schools. I like to go with her and be a good demonstrator and role model for them.”

Kim’s a Level 1 coach, and endorses the program. “So many of our kids play ‘travel sports’, with a lot of emphasis on winning. I think they’re losing sight of what sports should be about. First Tee teaches them some real-world values, and I wish it could be part of everyone’s gym classes,” she said.

“There’s a lot of negativity in the world,” Kline said. “I really feel blessed to be part of a program that can have such a positive influence on kids.”

First Tee of the Lehigh Valley and Berks County has an ambitious goal for 2020: boosting its enrollment to 500, and expanding its reach. As a self-funded organization, donations of time, money and in-kind offerings are always welcome. For more information, visit firstteelehighvalley.org/ways-to-give/ or contact Fred Keller at 610-868-5290 or [email protected]

THE FIRST TEE OF LEHIGH VALLEY AND BERKS COUNTY
424 CENTER ST, SUITE 300 BETHLEHEM
610.868.5290
FIRSTTEELEHIGHVALLEY.ORG
[email protected]

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