It is synonymous with junior golf in the United States, but the success of the First Tee program in Hobart shows its application in Australia can be equally as effective.
It’s a simple tenet of the game of golf; count every shot and be honest in the score you keep. But what if a teenager with no previous exposure to societal expectations, such as honesty, discipline and integrity, is given a nine-hole putting course and a scorecard to chart their success?
“The feedback we have received from day one is that their behaviour around the school has been better,” says Tasmania Police Senior Constable Steve Rose. “I don’t know that I can directly attribute that to the First Tee program, but certainly there has been noticeable changes in the way the kids are at school when we’re not around.”
First Tee was launched in Australia in December 2019 in conjunction with the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, the program first established in America in 1997 with nine core principles and a mandate to improve the lives of at-risk youth through the game of golf.
Tasmanian born and bred, Adam Holden completed his PGA of Australia traineeship before spending 20 years as a PGA Professional predominantly in Canada. He returned to join the team at Tasmania Golf Club in January 2019 and after a self-confessed “grizzle phone call” to PGA Head Office in early 2020, began hearing more about First Tee and how he could introduce it in Hobart. After undertaking the First Tee training, discussions took place with local schools and two branches of the PCYC and once Holden started offering the program he found willing participants who took the lessons they learned back to school and their community.
“A big thing for me is exposing kids to the environment that golf is conducted in,” Holden explains. “It’s a healthy environment. It’s much better than hanging around shopping malls or the streets.
“There are so many great lessons to learn in golf and it can open a lot of doors. It’s opened a lot of doors for me in life. It’s taught me how to communicate with adults, how to behave. I got my first part-time job after school through golf. I’ve travelled the world, do something I love, met so many great friends through golf, so I see golf as a great pathway that can open doors. Many of these kids may not have the opportunity to play golf or be exposed to golf if it wasn’t for a program such as First Tee.”
The nine key principles espoused by First Tee are Courtesy, Judgement, Honesty, Integrity, Sportsmanship, Respect, Confidence, Responsibility and Perseverance. Success in golf relies on all nine, but it is the transference of those principles that has the greatest impact.
“If we were to do ‘Integrity’ or ‘Honesty’ as a focus for that lesson, we could do putting as the skill for the day,” Holden adds. “We’ll do some basic technique and then set up a nine-hole putting course where they play a game and keep their score. We use that as an exercise in honesty and we’ll talk about how you can be more honest at home, at school or in your community.”
Senior Constable Rose facilitates kids from Huonville PCYC and Constable Ben Hughes from the Hobart PCYC and the impact reaches much further than lower scores and fluent swings.
“Our environment that we work in is with at-risk youth, kids who need a bit of a leg-up or might have some behavioural issues and perhaps haven’t been afforded the greatest start to life,” Senior Constable Rose explains. “Part of golf etiquette is that when you play a bad shot and frustration starts to get the better of you, you take a breath, resettle and move on to the next shot.
“We’ve found that their golf has improved but also their attitude towards difficult situations that they may encounter. Rather than spitting the dummy, they’re calmer and they appreciate that you do make mistakes and the important thing is to correct those mistakes and move on. That’s why the schools are supportive of programs like this because the kids are going away from school and learning new skills. When they come back to school they’re coming back with a better attitude. Hopefully, some of those nine core principles we teach translate into their day-to-day life both at school and at home.”