Interview with The First Tee of Atlanta

the first tee atlanta

by Connor Macmillan

About The First Tee

The First Tee is a non-profit organization, founded in 1997, dedicated to improving the lives of kids through the game of golf. This is accomplished by building character, teaching life values and promoting healthy choices through the game of golf.

the first tee atlanta

The First Tee was started as a partnership between the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, the PGA TOUR, and the USGA. Although The First Tee initially was a way to bring an affordable junior golf program to youth and communities that did not have them, thus growing the game, it soon evolved into blending the rules of the game with life values and leadership skills. 

The First Tee has introduced golf and life values to millions of kids through programs at golf course locations, after-school golf programs, in elementary schools P.E. classes, and at youth-serving organizations such as the YMCA. 

The First Tee of Atlanta - Interview

I recently visited The First Tee of Atlanta and met with Mr. Marvin Hightower, Executive Director and Coach Justin Martin, Director of Golf.  I asked them a few questions about the organization which is very interesting and does a lot of good in the community, especially for kids that would not necessarily have the opportunity to play golf. We were also able to collect and deliver various items including new and used golf balls that are used on the range and in the kids golf program, as well as some sets of junior golf clubs that can be distributed to kids in their program.

Can you tell me a little about what The First Tee does and its history?

The First Tee is a national organization founded in 1997 - by a partnership between the LGPA, the Masters Tournament, PGA of America, PGA Tour and the USGA - with a view to bringing golf to communities that would not previously have had access to the game and to develop youth, not just in golf but more importantly life skills, through golf.

In addition to helping kids master and progress through the different levels of golf capability, The First Tee puts significant emphasis on its Life Skills Program and helping kids to incorporate the Nine Core Values into their lives and developing leaderships skills. 

Why did you choose South-West Atlanta as a good place to establish The First Tee of Atlanta?

There is a deep history in the game of golf around here. Not far from us is the Alfred "Tup" Holmes Golf Course which is significant to us in that Mr. Tup Holmes led the City of Atlanta in the desegregation of golf courses in the '50's.

Elijah Walker, a native of Huntsville, AL, was the one of the first African American golf professionals in Atlanta.  He established the first junior golf program to introduce Atlanta's inner-city children to the game. In the 1970's he took over the very neglected John A White Park Golf Course and built a program there for impoverished children that drew national attention.

The John A White Park Golf Course is now home to The First Tee of Atlanta. Adjacent to the course is a driving range that includes grass hitting areas as well as pitching, chipping and putting areas. The First Tee of Atlanta operates the golf course and the driving range under an agreement that involves the City of Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation.  Both the course and driving range are open the to the public.

The First Tee Golf Course

How many kids are in your program in Atlanta?

There are 6 locations across Atlanta and about 1,000 kids are currently involved in the golf course program here and about 10,000 kids in affiliated The First Tee programs in schools, Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCA's etc. All in all The First Tee of Atlanta has reached over 100,000 kids through schools and affiliated programs across Metro Atlanta.

In addition we have certified "The First Tee" coaches that teach life and golf skills, based on The First Tee 9 Core Values, at various golf courses in the Atlanta area. Our program also includes PE teachers in certain elementary schools who are trained to introduce The First Tee core values and the game of golf to kids in their school system.

The First Tee DRIVE program is specifically designed for youth organizations, like the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club. The curriculum and activities teach kids about golf and develop character through fun golf games.

The First Tee Drive Program

Where do most of your kids in the program come from?

Mostly from surrounding areas, Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb Counties. We are looking to establish new program locations in wider Atlanta areas too as many kids cannot travel a long distance to get to our facility.

What ages are the majority of your kids and how long do they usually stay in the program?

Our kids are mostly in the 8 to 13/14 year old range. Teenagers sometimes leave to pursue other interests or play high school golf. They do often come back to volunteer. Ideally we like to get kids into the program around 8 or 9 years old and have them progress through our different levels from Par, through Birdie, Eagle and to Ace by the time they are teenagers. Ace is a fairly new program which lasts 2 years and incorporates modules that prepare the child for golf and life after school, including community service, interviewing, college decision, and career choice aspects.

The First Tee introduces the Nine Core Values (honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgement) to the kids. Which one of these do the kids enjoy learning most? Which one do you enjoy teaching most?

Perseverance probably. I hear that a lot from the kids, and we like teaching it too. It is a critical life skill that our kids can benefit significantly from. Perseverance can be transmitted exceptionally well through golf, as there are a lot of moments you want to just give up, but you have to persevere through.

What do you enjoy most about running the program?

I like seeing the impact that The First Tee has on the young people that participate in it. Even if they are only with us for 3 months (1 season) or years - The First Tee makes a difference in their lives and I like being a part of that.

What do you want the community to know about you and how can they help you?

We teach more than just golf, we help develop young people and teach them life skills and values regardless of economic level. The community can help us in many ways including financial support, coaching, volunteering and donations. We can use recent model golf clubs (e.g. 1 or 2 years old). We also have a convenient donation program through Second Swing Golf where clubs are sent to Second Swing and the donation value is sent directly to The First Tee chapter that you select. More information and a donation button to support our program can be found on our website at:

The First Tee of Atlanta

Justin Martin, Director of Golf; Connor Macmillan and Marvin Hightower, Executive Director of The First Tee Atlanta.

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