NEW YORK - A golf program catering to kids in underserved communities launched a program in Suffolk County on Thursday. The First Tee goes beyond the game to give life lessons.
Formerly private Brentwood Country Club has opened its smooth, sloping fairways to the public, but in some parts of Islip, golf seems like a world away. That is where the First Tee Metropolitan New York steps in.
"We don't just go anywhere," said chapter chairman Gene Bernstein. "We try to overlay where there's a great need, so we know we're helping the right people."
The country club is the newest hub for the First Tee Metropolitan New York. Suffolk Transportation's donation of a bus will bring local kids to the course.
"We went to the golf pros at the beginning because they were critical," explained Tom McAteer, Suffolk Transportation's executive vice president and First Tee board member. "If they didn't support this, it wouldn't have happened."
Islip's diverse population does not always reflect among the regulars at Brentwood.
"There's long been a stigma of what golf is, what it looks like, what it should be, and most of those aren't true," said Matt Rawitzer, local First Tee executive director. "While some exist, that doesn't mean that has to be that way for everyone."
The First Tee trains young golfers in skills they can use on and off the course.
"Golf has its own lingo," explained Long Island program director Justin Draycott, who grew up playing tournaments at Brentwood. "It's got its own way to dress, so we teach that to kids and we make it easy for kids to access it."
"Golf is merely the vehicle to get them to achieve all they have within them to achieve," added Islip supervisor Angie Carpenter.
The program focuses on nine core values, including perseverance, integrity and honesty.
"I learned how to persevere through making bogey and doing better. Where do I apply that now to my math homework?" Rawitzer said as an example. "So we do that as well, which is something most people don't expect."
The Suffolk County team will start with a pilot program, visiting schools to spread the word and garner interest ahead of the spring season.
"We can see years down the line doing this, you know, six days a week and having, you know, hundreds of kids playing these town of Islip golf courses," Draycott said.
The bus will eventually bring kids to Brentwood, Holbrook and Gulf Haven courses for free lessons in golf and life.
The First Tee Metro New York currently has campuses in Nassau County, the Bronx and New Jersey. To learn more, click here.
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