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Students take lessons at Sea Palms Resort’s golf course on St. Simons Island on Thursday during a session with The First Tee of The Golden Isles.

The game of golf is about more than teeing off and keeping track of strokes.

It’s a game that requires patience, integrity and sportsmanship. In the local area, nobody knows that better than the staff and volunteers of The First Tee of the Golden Isles

Since becoming a chapter in 2016, the youth-serving nonprofit has helped more than 11,600 youngsters, teaching them the basics of the game, and the core values that go along with it.

“The First Tee of the Golden Isles’ mission is to impact the lives of young people by providing them with educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf,” said Derek Norberg, the organization’s executive director. “Golf is a challenging game, and you spend your lifetime learning from the highs and lows of it, no matter your age or ability.”

The local chapter of The First Tee is part of a network of 160 chapters across America and the world. It’s promotion of character development and making healthy choices through golf is growing in Glynn, Camden, and McIntosh Counties; partnering with local golf courses like Sea Palms Resort, Jekyll Island Golf Club, and Sanctuary Golf Club to positively impact youngsters in the community. Although it’s a national brand, the local chapter of The First Tee is fully self-funding and all of the resources it raises go right back into local activities.

The organization helps budding golfers through in-school and after-school school programs year-round, explained Norberg.

“The Golf & Life Skills classes, held after school and on weekends, seamlessly integrate core values and the how-to’s of golf through fun, activity-based instruction in a group setting,” he said. “It helps highlight the inherent life skills while playing golf, and the on-course programming is progressive, helping students challenge themselves to advance.

In schools, The First Tee provides local support to 23 Elementary Schools both public and private. Norberg said, and makes sure schools have age-appropriate equipment, training materials, and a fully developed curriculum to work with.

“The program is designed to expose students to a sport they like, are unsure of, or have never played before while incorporating physical education standards and the schools’ delivery of values, Norberg said. Once the teachers become familiar with the curriculum it’s amazing to see their classrooms in action, we’re very appreciative of what these teachers can do,” Norberg continued to say.

Golf is a game in which, if you want to cheat, you probably can. It’s on the individual players to record their scores and invoke penalties when necessary. That’s why golf is a perfect opportunity for young people to learn the value of integrity and honesty. Through its programming, The First Tee of the Golden Isles gets youngsters on the course, keeping them active and teaching them the importance of respect, judgment, and perseverance.

“When you see the look on the kid’s faces after they finally connect on a drive, or when they take their hat off to shake your hand, you really start to see the results and why we’re here.” Said Norberg.

Of course, to make all of this happen, The First Tee relies on the generous support of volunteers like Evie Keim of St. Simons Island. She’s given her time for the past two years mentoring young golfers and said the experience has taught her as much as it’s taught the children

“I love the children,” she said. “I have seven grandchildren of my own, and I have to say, I love the concept of The First Tee, and I think they have a fabulously organized system.”

Keim works with instructors from The First Tee to help young people get a grip on golf, as well as the core values that go along with it.

“They teach you golf, but they also teach core values like responsibility, courtesy, respect, and on and on,” she said. “All of this incorporates in golf, where it belongs, but also in the home and in school.”

Norberg agrees.

“Of course, there are kids that stick out that have never held a golf club before, let alone thought about playing golf, and one day, you’re talking to them about their accomplishments in the classroom, in the community and of all things on the golf course.”

The First Tee of the Golden Isles is always open to new volunteers, too.

“Our goal is to provide an experience that’s as positive for our volunteers as it is our students,” Norberg said. “Since we have a variety of programs throughout the year, the commitment of each volunteer is determined by the time each person is able to give.”

Volunteering is an experience anyone with a love for golf can enjoy, said Keim.

“I’m always wildly impressed with how fast the kids pick up chipping, putting, driving and all the other skills,” she said. “I love it. It’s funny: Sometimes, I’m the one jumping up and down and getting the most excited when I see the kids excelling.”

For more information about The First Tee of the Golden Isles, including volunteer opportunities, call 912-268-6012 or visit www.TFTGI.com.

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