Golf has long been considered a sport of luxury and expense, but a local organization has turned the game into a tool to teach children how to live life with specific ethical values.
The First Tee of Tucson, the local branch of a national organization, provides children ages 5-17 from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds affordable golf, and life, lessons. For a yearly membership fee of $25 and a fee of $5 for each six-week session, students receive two-hour golf lessons that also focus on what the agency calls the “Nine Core Values”: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
Ryan Fitzgerald, program and life skills director for The First Tee of Tucson, has witnessed firsthand the positive impact the program has on participants. “We teach how to play golf, but our real mission is to teach children valuable life skills and character-building skills simultaneously through the game,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s a lot of fun spending time with kids and watching them change. We can see how they’ve grown each time they come back.”
In 2014, The First Tee of Tucson served 615 participants through the six-week academic year sessions and weeklong summer camp programs. Two of those participants were 12-year-old Eli and 10-year-old Margo Lefkowitz. When their father, Jerry Lefkowitz, was looking for afterschool programs for his kids, several things about The First Tee of Tucson appealed to him. “I wanted to introduce the kids to sports where they would challenge themselves, and the goal isn’t to beat another person, but to better themselves and make them better players,” explains Lefkowitz, who recalls that at his son’s bris, the rabbi charged him with raising “a decent human being.” Intrigued by the emphasis placed on the values, he enrolled Eli and Margo several years ago and has continued to bring them for each session because he has seen the positive effects on his children. “I liked that the program was teaching about more than just golf. It has been a program to build character, teach values, and teach healthy life skills.”
For more information, contact The First Tee of Tucson at 628-1555 or www.thefirstteetucson.org.
Laura Wilson Etter is a freelance journalist, grant writer and artist in Tucson.