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First Tee program puts life skills before golf instruction

TAMPA — Joe Lane flipped through his notes one last time and prepared to address the employees. As a 19-year-old manager for a sales company, he looked around and saw mostly older faces waiting for direction. He needed to be firm, decisive and most of all, not come off as a nervous teenager.

"It was about confidence when I ran sales meetings," Lane said.. He credits First Tee, which runs a golf instructional program, with giving him the confidence he needed.

Lane is one of thousands of graduates from the First Tee of Tampa Bay, a national golf organization for youth that teaches the game of golf second and core personal values first.

He's an example of what the program hopes to accomplish.

"First Tee is all about orientating kids in life lessons and teaching them how to be good, responsible adults some day," Lane said. "Golf is just the vehicle."

The World Golf Federation created First Tee in 1997 in order to expose underprivileged youngsters to the game. Through the years, the organization weaved in the First Tee Life Skills Experience, a program that stresses core values away from the course.

"Most golf instruction starts with grip, stance and posture," said Jeff Leonard, the group's executive director. "We flip that upside down and teach values and life skills first, then get to the curriculum of golf."

Leonard believes golf — often referred to as "the gentlemen's game" — is the perfect sport to incorporate First Tee's objectives.

"There are inherent values that we teach that always come first and foremost," said Leonard, who played 10 years professionally including a stint on the PGA Tour. "Things like shaking hands and how to introduce yourself properly are important."

The First Tee of Tampa Bay has more than 1,200 participants locally and is one of 206 chapters worldwide. The program's summer tournament schedule has included events at the Bloomingdale Golfers Club and instruction at Ace Driving Range in Brandon and Riverview.

"We have been well-received at all of our partners like Rogers Park (Golf Course) and Pebble Creek (Golf Club)," Leonard said. "We're looking to expand even more into (Eastern Hillsborough) as well."

First Tee offers year-round curriculum for kids aged 7-18, but with schools turning students loose for the summer, the program provides another alternative for parents looking to keep their kids busy. The cost of enrollment varies, but the program offers scholarships to children who qualify.

"We get a pretty good spike in numbers during the summer," Leonard said. "And we try to accommodate those from all economic backgrounds with the scholarship programs we have. We have kids who pay full price and those who participate for free."

Lane hopes to become a PGA pro. But in his spare time, he can be found volunteering at the program he credits with helping him become a success.

"It made me a better person and giving back is just part of the revolving cycle," he said. "I get to see these kids come in, and a year later they're maturity just shoots straight up."

First Tee program puts life skills before golf instruction 06/04/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 4, 2009 4:31am]

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