SPOTLIGHT: First Tee
First Tee helps young people gain the qualities they need for success in golf—and in life.
By Dave Faries
Nick Nelson admits that all sports instill core values, such as decision-making and self-confidence. But, insists the CEO of First Tee Monterey, golf is the sport most suitably placed to teach lessons that help guide a successful life. For one thing, there is no coach shouting in your ear about learning from mistakes. “You have to call penalties on yourself,” Nelson says. “That’s what sets golf apart. It’s taking personal responsibility.”
First Tee is dedicated to developing the values that help a person succeed in school and career. The nonprofit accomplishes this through different activities, discussions and lessons in both daytime and after school sessions. At the same time, First Tee’s instructors impart the fundamental skills of a sport one can enjoy for a lifetime.
The unique aspects of the sport—reporting your own score, extending courtesy to others—allow First Tee to develop a curriculum that plays out on a course. First Tee works with 10,000 students in Monterey County. The goal for 2022 is the expand to reach 15,000.
Their curriculum has proven itself locally. When the organization partnered with schools in Salinas 12 years ago, Alisal Union was a troubled school district. “Now Alisal boasts some of the highest math and reading scores in the city,” Nelson points out.
In addition to the group’s efforts with young people, First Tee offers the Pay It Forward Scholarship and Mentoring Program, which provides $20,000 scholarships to up to 20 students a year, helping them attend CSU Monterey Bay. To qualify, students must live in Monterey County, hold a 2.75 GPA or higher and be the first in their family to go to college.
As part of the program, students receive an adult mentor who helps with important aspects of life, such as money
management and dressing for success. They have a little help in the latter from Macy’s; the store brings in fashion con-
sultants and provides gift cards.
Students in Pay It Forward graduate at an 81-percent rate, 72 percent in four years. That out-distances CSU’s system-
wide graduation rate of first-in-family collegiates, which is closer to 10 percent. It takes $400,000 a year to fund Pay It Forward, much of it from individual donors: “People in this county are very generous,” Nelson says.