The short game for First Tee programming may be rooted in golf, but the long game is much more than that. The main objective of First Tee – Canada youth development programming is for participants to use the life skills learned through golf to navigate their journeys through life and opportunities thought previously inaccessible.
Golf Canada launched its partnership with First Tee in 2020, and First Tee – Canada began in 2021 under the operation of its provincial chapters, delivering programming at golf facilities, schools, and community centres.
With summer programs wrapped up, First Tee – Ontario fall programming is underway at 20 locations across the province with curriculums developed for each environment and modified to different ages and abilities.
The activities use golf as a vehicle to reinforce life skills, focused on the program’s five key commitments: pursuing goals, growing through challenge, collaborating with others, building positive self-identity, and using good judgement. First Tee – Ontario provides instructors with interactive training, equipment, and turnkey lesson plans to deliver safe and inclusive programming.
Golf Canada’s commitment to enhancing diversity and inclusivity in golf is a driving force behind the growth of First Tee – Canada and its provincial chapters. The aim is to break down existing barriers to sport participation, particularly in traditionally marginalized communities, and ultimately diversify golf’s participant pool to more closely reflect the strength of Canada’s multiculturalism.
First Tee – Ontario Program Manager Amaya Athill is responsible for overseeing the implementation of programming across the province and having a hand in providing youth with empowering and life-changing experiences. At this year’s RBC Canadian Open, her team provided an extended experience for First Tee – Ontario community program participants from local Boys and Girls Clubs to show them what life on and off the tee box can look like.
“The messaging that children often see is that a successful career pathway in sports is to rise to the level of a professional competitor. There is so much that goes into running a professional golf tournament and event of that size, so the idea was to expose as many children as possible to a wider world of opportunities and careers within golf and the sports industry. This included behind-the-scenes tours of the agronomy, media, and volunteer services teams,” said Athill. “Access to these experiences and exposure to future opportunities in the sport is a gap we hope to bridge through First Tee.”
As both an accomplished human rights lawyer and golfer since the age of five, Athill’s professional background and personal relationship with the game intersect seamlessly with the First Tee program, as they all value accessibility and opportunity.
“This is just the beginning of First Tee – Ontario’s impact,” said Athill. “We look forward to making more connections with schools, coaches, and community centres, and providing more youth with access to golf, as well as inspiring experiences and opportunities.”
With Ontario’s chapter experiencing rapid short-term growth, Ian Gragtmans – First Tee – Ontario’s Founding Chapter Donor and Trustee – expressed excitement about recent strides and confidence that the Gragtmans Family Foundation’s decision to support this cause was the correct one.
His decision to support the launch of the program was less influenced by the game of golf, but rather by a desire to help support the long-term development journeys of First Tee program participants.
“It’s not just about the golf, it has everything to do with helping those that were underrepresented, and giving younger people a chance,” said Gragtmans. “I want to help those that probably don’t have a chance of coming out of whatever challenging time they’re going through.”
With the help of generous donors like the Gragtmans Family Foundation, Golf Canada has fast-tracked access to these spaces where youth can learn self-sustaining life skills in a program that has over 25 years of international experience.
Gragtmans shared his personal experience engaging people who were direct participants of First Tee in the U.S.
“I have been fortunate enough to spend time in the U.S. – meeting and speaking with some of the participants that have gone through the program, and it’s nothing shy of remarkable to see what the potential is for those that may not otherwise, if not for First Tee, had that opportunity, or exposure,” said Gragtmans.
The Golf Canada Foundation is continuously pursuing gifts, which allow First Tee – Ontario to expand its locations across the province and further impact the lives of Canadian youth. To get involved, please visit www.firstteeontario.ca.