Valdosta Daily Times

October 22, 2013

The First Tee

Golf provides student opportunities

Kay Harris
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Focusing on a child’s concentration, coordination, social skills, grades, and athletic skills can lead to a college scholarship, but more importantly, can encourage children to stay in school and lead healthier lifestyles.

Building on that premise, the First Tee program works with elementary schools to make those improvements in children by introducing them to the game of golf. Founded by the PGA, the Professional Golfer’s Association, the First Tee works through community organizations and school systems to reach children at critical learning ages.

Representatives from the First Tee program visited Valdosta Monday to discuss the possibility of starting a local chapter, meeting with representatives from area school systems, elected officials, and potential sponsors.

Southern Circuit Judge Jim Tunison organized the meeting in an effort to encourage members of the community to consider new ways to reach children in need.

The First Tee program has two main elements — the National School program and the Life Skills program. The school program is focused on children in pre-K to fifth grade and includes training teachers and providing all of the equipment necessary for the program.

The National School program is currently in 5,500 elementary schools in 800 school districts across the country, and through the program, children have improved grades, attendance, social skills, and competence.

Retired Judge Wayne Ellerbee, who served as the area’s juvenile judge for 42 years, endorsed the program as another means of reaching children who have no structure and no motivation to succeed. He suggested that any discussion concerning introducing the First Tee program in the area involve LODAC Director David Troy.

Barbara Essig, the executive director of the Savannah chapter of First Tee, is a retired

educator who previously worked with the Oakland, Calif., chapter before relocating to Savannah.

Essig discussed how the program, which is currently in all 26 elementary schools in Savannah, has impacted students.

“It’s important to remember that this is not a junior golf academy, this is a youth-development program,” she said, adding that this year, “every school in our district participating demonstrated measurable results.”

Essig also addressed the positive aspects of segregating boys and girls with programs especially for each group.

Savannah is also implementing the Life Skills program of the First Tee, which takes character and leadership to another level.

The organization works locally with golf courses to allow children on the course at specified times, either free or at a reduced rate that the local chapter pays.

Essig said, though, that all you need “is green space to hit a ball.”

Each year, the tour donates $5,000 to the First Tee organization in each location that hosts an event. Locally, the South Georgia Classic each April is a tour event.

Anyone interested in starting a local chapter or supporting the First Tee program is encouraged to go online to or calling Judge Tunison for more information on how you can help.