SERVING THE GAME
USGA Hosts Participants of First Tee Summer Program July 27, 2014 By Jonathan Wilhelm, USGA

Jim Hubbell gives youths of The First Tee of Metropolitan New York's "Katie's Academy" a tour of the Research and Test Center. (USGA/Jonathan Wilhelm)

FAR HILLS, N.J. – Start the day with an early morning cardio routine, followed by short-game drills, lunch and an educational curriculum – capped with a quick 18 holes of golf. Not a typical lazy summer day for a kid, right? It is, however, an ideal summer for a handful of juniors with the First Tee of Metropolitan New York.

This summer, junior golfers who are looking to further develop their game and understanding of golf’s guiding principles are participating in a First Tee Metropolitan program called “Katie’s Academy.” Led by instructor and The First Tee Metropolitan’s manager of special projects and outcomes Katie Brenny, the program is aimed at The First Tee participants who have reached Birdie or Eagle – ranging from ages 10-17 – in the hierarchy of juniors.

“This [eight-week] program is the first time a lot of these kids have been really pushed,” said Brenny, affectionately known as ‘Coach Katie’ by the juniors. “It is designed for kids who want to take their game to the next level, but to also give [the juniors] a better understanding of the game.”

To do so, Brenny and the First Tee of Metropolitan New York have created a two-headed approach. It keeps kids active with early workouts, then mixes in life, career and other goal-setting lessons throughout the day to reinforce the nine core values of The First Tee: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

“This is really about helping us appreciate the game,” said 16-year-old Nadeem Ali, an eight-year First Tee participant. “I’m at the Eagle level, and it helps me to be a better peer to the younger kids because I’m seeing how relatable the goal-setting and character-building content is to real life.”

One of the program’s activities includes a weekly visit to the USGA Golf House and Museum in Far Hills. Kids get a first-hand look at the history of golf with a museum tour, with subsequent visits focused on teaching lessons of character and integrity, illustrated by choices made by iconic golfers over the years.

“The USGA Museum spreads history and builds awareness by engaging junior golfers from local First Tee Chapters, including: Metropolitan New York, Essex County, Plainfield, Raritan Valley as well as Newark Girls Golf,” said Kim Gianetti , USGA Museum’s manager of marketing and outreach. “Our programs seek to support and reinforce the nine core values taught by The First Tee, using the stories related to the lives and careers of USGA champions throughout history.”

Keeping with the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-natured curriculum of the program, the kids also tour the USGA Research and Test Center. Here, they learn how to measure the volume of driver heads, how the USGA tests golf balls for conformance and what goes into USGA testing certification.

And while it’s a different approach to a golf-themed summer, Brenny and her pupils are excited about the future of the academy. During the group’s visit on Wednesday, July 9, the kids were all smiles and full of questions during both tours, and it’s evident that golf is already much more than just a game to these eager juniors.

Jonathan Wilhelm is the USGA’s social media specialist. Email him at jwilhelm@usga.org.