First Tee Golf Program

Stella Zuniga, First Tee program director, gives pointers to girls from San Miguel School about how to putt. First Tee teaches the game of golf to students who may not otherwise be exposed to the sport. EMMA HOWELLS/Tulsa World

The game of golf parallels life in more ways than any other sport in existence. It teaches you how to be consistent and even-keeled so that you can make progress, and it teaches you how to deal with recovery and resiliency in the face of adversity. Regardless of what happens on the golf course or in life, you’ve got to keep playing and keep moving forward.

Life and golf include taking calculated risks based on circumstances, opportunities and self-knowledge. Simply put, when children learn the game of golf, they are not only on a track to acquiring the skills necessary to live a functioning, healthy and productive life but also learning skills to escape addiction, abuse and unlawful situations potentially.

One of the most successful nonprofit programs in Tulsa for underprivileged youth is the First Tee program. It is a program located at our two city of Tulsa golf courses, Mohawk and Page Belcher, and supported by private donations.

The First Tee of Tulsa could be argued to be one of the most successful chapters in the world. Children at the First Tee of Tulsa, and through the game of golf, are taught nine core values that include honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment — values all children need exposure to, but especially our most vulnerable children who live in areas of high crime, poverty and instability.

As a former board member of First Tee of Tulsa, I know of the many success stories this program has produced. At-risk children who participate in the First Tee program are now the first in their families graduating from college earning business, legal and medical degrees, to name a few. They are becoming mentors for younger children and growing our local tax base through successful occupations. Future leaders are emerging through the First Tee program’s influence in our schools and community.

It is a tremendous success story that our community should celebrate, but more importantly, our local city leaders should recognize their role as crucial partners.

Not appropriately funding the maintenance of the two city-owned golf courses where the First Tee operates puts the program at risk in addition to our precious children.

If we want to change our communities, our state and our nation, then those who are in the most powerful positions need to recognize a greater vision and support our most valuable assets, which are our children. The people of Tulsa have significant philanthropic histories.

A successful collaboration between public and private sectors though is a two-way street.

City leaders can imply that citizens as a whole put a low priority on city golf course maintenance, but Tulsans as a whole do not put a low priority on such things as our children, crime and abuse.

Sheila Dills, a Republican, represents District 69 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, where she is the assistant majority floor leader. She is a former collegiate and professional golfer.

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