NIPOMO, Calif. – A program designed to teach young people how to play golf – and how to succeed in life – is growing in popularity. It's called The First Tee.
At the Blacklake Golf Course in Nipomo, a year end celebration for the First Tee Central Coast program was underway.
"We go all year, four seasons a year, and this is to thank all the parents and kids for being with us all year long," said Billy Gibbs, First Tee program director. "So right around the holidays we do a little year end celebration tied in with the holidays."
From age five into their teenage years, First Tee participants are introduced to the game of golf in a safe and fun setting. But the lessons go well beyond that.
"The First Tee is all about character," Gibbs said. "We build character through the game of golf, so we play and build skill sets through chipping, putting and pitching, but more importantly, how to be a good person."
The First Tee's core values include, honesty and integrity, sportsmanship and respect, confidence and responsibility, courtesy, judgement, and perseverance.
Claire Alford is a Santa Clara University student and a former First Tee participant.
"It really changed my life to be honest," she said. "I don't know what kind of person I would be if I hadn't started first tee all those years ago, amazing core values that they teach, just persevering through life and being responsible, being respectful, all those things I would not have learned if I didn't start First Tee."
"You see them graduating with honors and going on and doing things, becoming leaders, they become leaders in their community, that builds your heart and it's truly why I do it and I see it all the time," Gibbs said.
In addition to being a popular program for kids, the First Tee Central Coast is a hit with parents.
Jesse Weipert is a parent of one of the participants.
"I like that they're learning the sport, they're learning lots of skills, and they also teach the core values that are going to help them throughout life," Weipert said.
Approaching 20 years, the First Tee Central Coast program spans the tri-county region.
"We also have programs in schools and afterschool programs and in a regular year we reach about 25,000 kids," said Jessani Johnson, executive director of the program.
And the First Tee Central Coast continues to grow, despite the impacts of COVID-19.
"There's no silver lining to a pandemic obviously, but kids are allowed to do outdoor activities and so when kids couldn't do the other sports we had parents say, 'can they come join us,' which of course they can," Gibbs said. "Cool thing is now they're coming back. Even though the other sports are open, they still want to continue, so that shows we're doing something right and continue to make a difference. Our classes are filling up and we have a blast."
Gibbs said the winter program which starts in January is almost entirely full already.
To learn more about the First Tee Program, click here.