Golf teaches many lessons, but few are as valuable as those learned by the kids at the First Tee of Metropolitan New York. Each year, some 700 youngsters aged seven to 17 — many of them from nearby Yonkers and other Westchester communities — not only get a solid introduction to the game at Mosholu Golf Course in the Bronx, they also learn nine core values that build character and promote healthy life choices.
“We learn golf rules and respect and perseverance,” attests Scarsdale sixth-grader Zach Shearon, 11, who has participated in the First Tee program for three years. He’s also played at Hilton Head and Centennial with his parents. “My mom’s not that great,” he says, “but my dad’s okay.” The scoop on his own game? “I like to chip and putt. It’s easier because I don’t have much muscle yet, but I have my aim down pretty good.”
At left, counselor Zhao Yang instructs student Hannah Berros of Yonkers. Right, Zach Shearon of Scarsdale
Zach’s experience reflects the First Tee approach pretty accurately. “It’s really an education program,” says Metro NY First Tee chairman Phil Laskawy. “Golf is simply the methodology that we use.” A member of Quaker Ridge CC in Scarsdale, Laskaway became involved in the organization 10 years ago when he was chairman of Ernst & Young. The Metropolitan Golf Association and Met PGA teamed up with NY Parks & Recreation to build the facility at Mosholu and launch the program.
The standard course runs in six-week cycles, with each once-a-week class lasting 75 minutes, according to director of instruction Todd Bordonaro. Cost is minimal, just $15 for the full six weeks, and clubs are available for those who don’t have them. “They learn how to be patient, how to be positive, how to keep a good attitude, how to set goals,” Bordonaro says. “We talk about health and wellness, working together, things like creating a ‘go-to’ team you can count on when you have a problem or need some help.”
Along the way, they learn some golf, too.
“It’s more relaxing than other sports, plus it builds your confidence,” according to eight-year-old Noah Phillips from Mamaroneck. He adds, “My mom saw it in the paper and within 60 seconds she called up and registered me. I learned stance, posture, how to drive and chip. My favorite shot is the drive.”
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Student Mary Slattery of Mount Vernon
During the summer months, the First Tee runs golf schools Monday through Friday for six hours each day. Bordonaro explains, “They come in the morning, have some golf instruction, do some kind of other activity, have lunch, then play nine holes.” Tuition for the camp is $250 per week.
Zarina Iman, 11, and her sister Karina, eight, from New Rochelle, came to camp last year for the first time. “I don’t watch golf on TV,” Karina says, “but I like to play. There are so many trees and birds and squirrels and chipmunks. Once we saw a coyote.” Wildlife is included at no extra charge.
Noah Phillips of Mamaroneck
Over the years, a number of First Tee graduates have taken their love of golf to college with them. Tyler McCaine of Mount Vernon went on to Colgate after representing the First Tee of Metro New York at the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach. Last year, James Slattery of Mount Vernon received the 2011 Leung Family and Friends Scholarship. The 18-year-old, who was a First Tee-er for five years, is headed to Santa Clara University in San Francisco.
For young golfers in northern Westchester, First Tee programs are also offered at Mohansic Golf Course through the Yorktown Athletic Club. For more information about both locations, visit www.thefirstteemetny.org.