Golf Organization Makes Drive for Hill Volunteers

Posted December 11, 2007 at 4:28pm

Golf may not be a sport to which inner-city children traditionally have much exposure, but the Washington, D.C., chapter of The First Tee is hoping to change that. And the nonprofit organization is hoping to recruit more Capitol Hill staffers as volunteers to help in the effort.

The First Tee was created by the Professional Golf Association, Ladies Professional Golf Association, United States Golf Association and Augusta National with the goal of teaching underprivileged children “nine core values” through the game. As part of the attempt to get more Hill staffers on board, the group is hosting an event in January at the offices of Cornerstone Government Affairs, a lobbying and consulting firm.

“The idea is to use golf as a carrot to get the kids interested and we teach them life skills, some of the values inherent in golf,” said Gretchen Hamm, executive director of the organization’s Washington, D.C., chapter.

The organization, which Roll Call has supported through past event sponsorships, has served more than 1,500 children this year and launched the National School Program, which trains gym teachers to teach the sport in public schools. The program currently is available in 15 schools.

“Really, we’re not looking for the next Tiger Woods,” Hamm said. “We’re looking to make great citizens and … give the kids access to a nontraditional sport.”

First Tee’s board historically has been responsible for recruiting donors, though as the program has grown, officials have started applying for grants and hosting events. In October, the organization hosted Putting and Politics II with special guests House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). The First Tee D.C. also is a beneficiary of a tournament hosted by the Women’s Congressional Golf Association. At present, the organization is raising money to create its own golf course.

“We’re trying to build our own facility at Kenilworth Park,” said William Scott, president of the D.C. chapter. “[We] have an agreement with National Park Service to enter into negotiations.”

The program currently has chapters in 47 states and several countries. The D.C. chapter, established in 1999, accepts children ages 8 to 18 and teaches them to play on the Langston and East Potomac golf courses. Children are paired up with volunteers who meet them at one of the courses and play a game with them, establishing a mentorship. Through the game, board members hope to teach the “nine core values” of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

“Because there’s no moving target you think [golf is] pretty easy stuff,” said Michael Brown, a First Tee board member. “Watching the young folks realize that it’s not easy … is what’s really interesting to see. They don’t give up and that’s what life is all about. That’s what we try to have them understand.”

In addition to teaching the children values, the program also helps them get summer jobs at local country clubs.

“The clubs [have] been great with us and some will work on the course with the grounds crew, some will work in the pro shop, some will work as caddies,” Scott said. “The biggest problem we have is transportation. These kids live down in Anacostia. How the hell do we get them up to Chevy Chase?”

The organization is hoping to remedy this problem by purchasing a van next year.

“As we’re growing we really need more than our board for support,” Hamm said. In addition to efforts to recruit on the Hill, the organization has a facet called the Young Benefactors Council, which aims to get young people in the District involved.

“It’s not just about golf,” Brown added. “It’s about social training and understanding about life and future and caring and giving back.”