First Tee works to help kids build character

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Last May, at the close of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, Scott Langley was one of four golfers on the PGA tour who volunteered to read to kids who are enrolled in The First Tee of Charlotte, the local chapter of a national organization that uses golf  to teach character development to children.

Langley, a Texas native who in 2010 as an amateur made the cut for the U.S. Open and then turned professional in 2011, also is the first graduate of The First Tee to play on the PGA tour.

“We use the game of golf, but we teach character issues,” says Ike Grainger, a former vice president of business development for Charlotte-based commercial construction company Shelco who joined First Tee in November as executive director after serving five months on an interim basis.

Founded 10 years ago, First Tee of Charlotte is one of 188 chapters in 50 states of First Tee, a national nonprofit based on St. Augustine, Fla., that has introduced golf and its values to over five million participants who otherwise might not have had an opportunity to play.

The local chapter serves roughly 800 kids a year ages five to 18 through an after-school program in the spring and fall, and one-week camps in the summer.

It also offers a program created by its national office that provides equipment and a curriculum, as well as training for physical education teachers, to teach basic life skills at elementary schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

First Tee is working to expand all those programs.

Operating with an annual budget of $500,000, First Tee generates roughly 40 percent of its funds through partnerships with Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

First Tee offers its after-school programming Mondays through Fridays from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., with each child participating once a week for either five weeks or 10 weeks.

Sessions are held at First Tee’s offices in the former pro shop at Revolution Golf Course, a nine-hole course off I-77 South that is owned by Mecklenburg County.

With 150 active volunteers assisting in the programs, kids get lessons in life skills and golf.

Lessons on putting, for example, include lessons on courtesy and sportsmanship. Last summer, First Tee offered it summer camps at Charles T. Myer Golf Course in northeast Mecklenburg County and at Rocky River Golf Course in Cabarrus County.

In partnership with Ballantyne Country Club, First Tee each May sponsors the annual Rudolph-Dadey Memorial Golf Tournament, which has generated a total of $18,000 since 2010 to support college scholarships for First Tee graduates.

First Tee also is offering the National School Program in 81 elementary schools, supported with $100,000 grants from Wells Fargo each of the past two years, and a $50,000 matching grant from Howard Levine, CEO of Family Dollar Stores, that First Tee matched, dollar for dollar.

First Tee plans to expand the schools program in 2014 to Cabarrus and Catawba counties.

It also sends some of its kids to leadership academies throughout the U.S. that are sponsored by its national organization.

“Our goal,” Grainger says, “is to give kids character.”

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