First Tee uses golf to shape young lives

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Matt Radebach said he couldn’t be more thankful for everything The First Tee in Lansing has done for his daughter. Radebach’s daughter is 9 and has been in the program for two years.

“It is an amazing feeling that I get when I see Paige continue to grow and gain confidence from the program,” Radebach said. “Along with her newfound confidence, Paige has been able to translate and apply many of the First Tee core values and apply them to her golf tournaments, practice, school and home life.”

The First Tee of Lansing is an organization that teaches values such as honesty, respect and perseverance through the game of golf. Kids sign up for $50 and receive a package of classes. The Lansing organizations serves about 600 kids a year. The summer is the busiest time for the program. Jeannie O’Donnell, the program director, said 76 percent of parents reported greater confidence with their kids and 85 percent reported improved behavior.

“Seeing these statistics just reassures us that we are teaching them the right way,” O’Donnell said. “For us, it’s not about if the kid can hit their 7-iron 180 yards. It’s about the core values we instill in them, and if they are continuing to learn them through the game of golf.”

The First Tee was founded in 1997 but the Lansing organization didn’t open until 2008.

Tim Bograkos, executive director of the First Tee of Lansing, said he wakes up every day with the hopes of growing the game’s popularity amongst young people.

“My biggest goal is the grow the game and improve the curriculum. Learning life lessons through this tremendous game is so important. Growing the game isn’t always easy when it’s hard to spread the word. That’s one of the biggest challenges The First Tee deals with,” said Bograkos.

“We need to spread the word about our program more. Building it up and being allowed more access to golf courses would be terrific.”

Rachel Lubahn, a golf coach and marketing advocate for the First Tee, said the organization partners with a variety of other area groups.

“Using social media to promote our organization is something we recently started, and we hope that helps get our name out there,” Lubahn said. “The best reward for us is seeing the kids stick with the game for their entire life. That’s the magic, and without that we aren’t being successful.”

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