Charleston area First Tee participants describe how program changed their lives

by Mike Harrison

The First Tee of Greater Charleston reached more than 15,000 youth through its on-course, outreach and in-school programs in 2016. Two great stories come from First Tee participants Grayson Henley and Jocelyn McGill. Although Grayson and Jocelyn took different paths to The First Tee’s Core Golf & Life Skills program, both thrived in the environment and are using the lessons learned as a path to success.
“I started playing golf as a freshman at Ashley Ridge High and I badly wanted to secure a varsity position,” said Grayson. “I heard about The First Tee from one of the other players and as soon as the season ended I began going to classes with Coach Perry Green at Wescott Plantation. I wanted to be a better golfer.”
Jocelyn’s route was much different. “I had never even played a sport before ,” said Jocelyn, “but my mom was talking to a friend whose daughter was in the program and enjoyed playing golf. So, my mom signed me up for The First Tee. I didn’t know anything about it, but when I found out I told her I would give it a try. I didn’t know what to expect.”
In the Core Golf & Life Skills program, participants proceed through successive levels with assessments of their golf and understanding of values. Golf is simply the tool used to instill the Nine Core Values that are the foundation of The First Tee.
“When I started, I really enjoyed the positive environment,” noted Grayson. “The First Tee has figured out a way to make golf fun for youth. It’s stimulating and I think that’s what makes it a great environment to learn the game in. The coaches have a curriculum to teach, but they are sneaky on how they get the core values into the class discussions. I remember several times when my friends and I were having a casual conversation about a conflict and the coach helped us through the problem using the core values.”
“I had never picked up a golf club before, but when I started classes at Wescott everyone from the coaches to the volunteers were very friendly and welcoming,” said Jocelyn. “After a few classes, I really began to enjoy it. The First Tee has really helped me with meeting new people and breaking the ice. In golf, you’re often paired with people you don’t know, so introducing yourself to others is one of the first lessons you learn.”
Grayson, 19, is a freshman at the University of South Carolina, with a GPA of 3.2 and pursuing a Business Management Degree. She wants to become a Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tournament Manager. Jocelyn, 20, is a sophomore at Clemson, with a GPA of 3.2 and studying Animal Veterinary Science. She has wanted to be a veterinarian since she was in elementary school.
Grayson credits The First Tee with having a major impact on her life. “I joined The First Tee at a unique point in my life. The coaches and mentors saw me as more of an adult than the adults in my life that knew me as a kid. That kind of connection helped me mature by giving me more responsibility and expecting more of me,” she said. “The core values definitely helped me in high school and became my moral code of conduct. I try to get better at them as I move through life.”
But it wasn’t only the Core Values that impacted her life. “Early in our golf instruction, we learned about S.T.A.R. (Stop, Think, Anticipate, Respond), “Grayson said, “to be used when your golf game is starting to go bad or you face a difficult shot in front of you. In higher level classes, we learned to use S.T.A.R. in other situations. It has become second nature to me whenever I’m overwhelmed or dealing with conflict or in stressful situations – even in relationships. I’ll use it for the rest of my life. “
Jocelyn also noted the impact of The First Tee. “I would recommend The First Tee to parents. It’s fun, you meet lot of other kids – outside of friends from school- you learn to play golf and every class focuses on one of the core values. I’m a sophomore in college, but I’ve remained friends with people that I met at The First Tee and we still get together to play golf.”
Jocelyn commented on the Core Values that impacted her the most. “Honesty and integrity had the most influence on my life. I was aware of those values before starting classes, but The First Tee reinforced them.” Jocelyn said. “As a student at Clemson, which has a very strict Academic Integrity policy, those values are very important. I also think the respect and courtesy core values helped out a lot in the long run. It seems like people find it hard to be respectful and courteous to each other nowadays. I try to keep those values in mind all the time.”
Looking back on her First Tee experience, Grayson said, “When I think of golf with The First Tee, I think of home. The people that are a part of the program’s success are my family. They mentored me, they were my friends when I didn’t really have any in high school, they allowed me to mentor others, and they taught me how to enjoy golf for the rest of my life. I would recommend this program to anyone.”
No matter what path brings participants to The First Tee of Greater Charleston, they are all taught the same golf and character building life skills. In a recent interview on The Golf Channel, World Golf Foundation CEO Steve Mora said, “The First Tee is going to continue to be a youth development program that uses golf as a platform to teach life skills. Golf is at the center of that. We’re going to create the next generation of golfers, but we’re also going to create the next generation of leaders. And I’m not so sure that you won’t see a Supreme Court Justice First Tee alum before you see a U.S. Open winner First Tee alum. And we would be perfectly happy with that.”