Using golf to make better people


For some people, just getting to the first tee of a golf course can be complicated by a variety of factors — time restraints, lack of money, undependable partners or bad weather.

But for others, it's almost impossible.

For underprivileged kids, it's a very long journey, one that few ever get to experience other than watching a hero figure like Tiger Woods on television.

In an effort to shorten the trip, a group of Lowcountry volunteers have been working for more than two years to make golf more accessible. The result is The First Tee of Greater Charleston, a program designed to expose kids between 8 and 18 to a game that could change their lives.

Not because it will improve their short game or lengthen their drives. Although hundreds of kids will be exposed to golf and taught the skills of the game through this program, the ultimate goal has more loft than a sand wedge.

"We're not trying to make better golfers," said Ben Grandy, the program's director. "We're trying to make better people for our community."

Core values

Grandy expects more than a hundred kids to show up next Tuesday (June 17) when the First Tee program kicks off at Patriots Point Links in Mount Pleasant.

The golf course has donated time and space for the program. The kids have been recruited from the Boys and Girls Clubs, The YMCA and the YWCA.

Instruction will be handled by a host of volunteers, according to Grandy.

"We've got PGA pros who have been in the business 20 years; we've got retirees who just love the game of golf; we've got college students; your average working people. Some know a lot about golf, some don't, which is great, because the program isn't just about golf."

That's because The First Tee teaches things beyond the basics of alignment, swing plane and keeping your head down.

During these precious hours of instruction, the real focus is to instill the program's Core Values of Life — honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, courtesy, judgment, confidence, responsibility and perseverance.

"It's not just about golf," said Grandy, a 25-year-old graduate of Clemson's Professional Golf Management program and native of Batesburg-Leesville. "We get views from all different kinds of directions. We want our volunteers to form relationships with the kids and be able to relate to the kids in what we call 'coachable moments.'

"We want them to take what they're learning in the program and relate it to what they're learning outside the program through school and other sports."

Life skills

One notable aspect of this First Tee program is that it's been the brainchild of the 20-something generation here in the Lowcountry.

The president and driving force behind it is Joel Willis, a 27-year-old Georgia graduate from St. Simons Island, who came to Charleston four years ago and works in the risk management business.

His efforts to bring First Tee to town resulted in a 30-member board that has spent tireless hours making this program a reality. First Tee, a national program, only approves a handful of these local chapters each year.

"It's really an initiative to teach life skills through the game of golf," Willis said. "The nine core values are things that you and I learned as golfers on the golf course. The kids we're targeting will be from low-income families that aren't preaching those things.

"A lot of these kids are coming from broken homes. It's a tough road for the mothers out there who are trying to get them to school while they're just trying to survive.

"Hopefully we can put the time in with these kids and really make a difference."

For information about The First Tee of Greater Charleston, call 843-352-4513 or visit

Reach Ken Burger at 937-5598