There is a public course on Hilton Head where you can play a 6-hole, par-3 course and a 9-hole disc golf course.
But did you know that First Tee is also part of a national organization that reaches 3.7 million children annually?
“We’re not just a golf program,” says Executive Director Pat Zuk, “we’re a character development program. Our curriculum was designed by experts in the field of youth development. Coaches are trained to work the life skills curriculum into the classes, so we’re not just talking about life skills and then golfing, we’re doing them at the same time.” Then, he says, they all participate in what’s called the Bridge to Life, where players discuss how they are going to take what they’ve learned and apply it outside the golf course, using specific examples. “That’s the golden nugget,” says Zuk. “Our goal is to get kids using these lessons in life.”
In 2021, First Tee served 501 kids in the local program.
They are also reaching 14,000 children through elementary P.E. classes in Beaufort and Jasper Counties. This makes it sound like there is a robust staff behind these efforts, but this nonprofit has two part-time employees and two full-time employees. “The rest are volunteers,” says Zuk. “All the coaches are volunteers, the people who help maintain the facility are volunteers, our admin are volunteers. We always have 50 or more at once, and then that number swells to 75 or 100 over the summer.”
Why golf? “In a word, honesty,” Zuk says.
“Players call penalties on themselves and report their own scores.” Golf is also a perfect activity for getting outdoors, with plenty of exercise, sunshine, fresh air and wide open spaces built in. “It’s just a great program,” Zuk enthuses. “Hearing the older kids talk about what they’ve learned is so gratifying. How to stick to a tough task, be respectful and considerate, set and achieve goals. And, they come out of it with a lifelong love of the game!”
First Tee programs are open to everyone, and about half of participating children do so through scholarships. Spring classes begin in March, and registration starts in mid-February.
By Dani Ray
First Tee of The Lowcountry
151 Gumtree Rd, HHI