As far as most kids are concerned, columnist Florence King had it right when she wrote that golf is basically “tiddlywinks played while standing up and wearing a hat.”
Sharing the gifts of golf with Gem State kids
That’s because the closest most kids ever get to actually participating in a round of golf is when they’re lounging around playing video games. They have no idea that golf is more than just a game.
But all that could be changing. A small army of volunteers and golf advocates is mounting in Idaho, and its goal is to get a set of golf clubs in every kid’s hand.
“Basically, golf can be used as a way to help kids learn life skills. Besides getting kids outdoors and getting them fresh air and some exercise, it’s a great vehicle for teaching. Golf creates character and teaches kids how to set goals, how to be good sportsmen, how to follow the rules—even when no one is watching. Can you think of another sport where they take the word ‘integrity’ to the level it’s taken to in golf?” Pete Stickney asked.
Pete is the General of the war here in the 43rd state. He’s the executive director and one of just two-and-a-half paid employees of The First Tee of Idaho, which has an office in Eagle. The local branch of the national volunteer-based, non-profit organization was formed in 2005 and has been slowly growing—thanks to more volunteers than they can count—ever since.
The goal of The First Tee is really a Par 3; to change the way most kids across America view golf and, more importantly, how they view themselves and the world around them.
I took what I learned on the course and brought it to the rest of my life, like school,
and it helped me in my everyday life.”
They do so by using golf to teach nine core values, basic things like honesty, confidence, responsibility and perseverance. The type of stuff we should all work on regardless of our age. They also teach the kids to play fast, safe and courteous golf, and to do so through three programs in Idaho: the regular First Tee program, offered to kids aged five to 18 throughout much of the Treasure Valley; the National School Program, now available in a few Idaho communities; and Canyon County’s 2nd Chance Tournament, a program that is the first of its kind in the country.
“It’s not just about golf. It teaches you about golf, but it also teaches you life lessons you can take away with you,” explained Sam Dulski, with the self-confidence of someone who can routinely drive the ball 300-plus yards and has a single digit handicap.
“Slamming Sammy” exemplifies what The First Tee is all about. One of the first enrolled in the regular program at the age of 8, the 15-year-old from Boise was one of only 98 golfers selected from more than 200 First Tee chapters nationally to get invited to the Life Skills and Leadership Academy in Manhattan, Kansas, last year. This year, he was the only freshman on Centennial High’s golf team. But Sam’s life hasn’t just improved on the course.
"You can’t put a value on positively changing a kid’s life.”
“I took what I learned on the course and brought it to the rest of my life, like school, and it helped me in my everyday life. Being a part of The First Tee increased my confidence in golf and in life. I would definitely recommend it to other kids,” Sam said. And so would his dad.
Mike Dulski, Sam’s father, was so impressed with the difference The First Tee program was making on his son’s life, he eventually volunteered to join the Idaho chapter’s Board of Directors.
“I just love the program and what they’re doing for kids. It’s made a big, positive difference in Sam’s life,” Mike said. Of course Sam’s ever-growing skills on the course do cause his dad—who swings the sticks, too—at least one problem.
“The first couple times he beat me I tried to ground him. But then I realized I’d be grounding him every time we played. So I had to accept the fact that my son can kick my butt,” Mike said with a laugh.
While making a positive difference in a kid’s life is no laughing matter, sharing laughter certainly helps. You can support The First Tee by donating money, time or even your old golf clubs. Just about every course in the Treasure Valley accepts used club donations for The First Tee. The proceeds from donated clubs are then used to buy golf clubs for The First Tee of Idaho’s ever-growing programs.
But this isn’t about money. Heck, in the overall scheme of things, it’s barely about golf.
“We don’t turn away anybody for any reason, because we feel our program is valuable for any kid,” explained Pete, whose job before coming to Idaho to help The First Tee was helping Hurricane Katrina victims in the bayous of Louisiana.
“You can’t put a value on positively changing a kid’s life,” he said.
For more information on The First Tee of Idaho visit www.thefirstteeidaho.org.
Photography courtesy The First Tee of Idaho
Text Mike Murphy