Playing golf and learning life lessons

First Tee celebrates opening the Overland Park Junior Course

Christy Steadman
Posted 6/13/22

It was barely a year ago when 16-year-old Layla Duong first put her hands on a golf club. Back then, she knew nothing of the sport. “Golf is for the rich,” she thought. “Golf is boring.” But …

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Playing golf and learning life lessons

First Tee celebrates opening the Overland Park Junior Course


It was barely a year ago when 16-year-old Layla Duong first put her hands on a golf club.

Back then, she knew nothing of the sport.

“Golf is for the rich,” she thought. “Golf is boring.”

But in April 2021, through a friend’s encouragement, Duong applied for, and obtained, a job with First Tee-Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Today, Duong serves as a First Tee junior coach and works directly with about 40 youth as their mentor. She plays golf on South High School’s varsity golf team and, being the first in her family to play golf, she is teaching them how to play the sport so it becomes something they can do together.

“I have a deep passion for the sport now,” Duong said. “I will continue (playing) golf my whole life.”

Though Duong has fallen in love with golf, it’s not just the sport that she enjoys so much — it’s being involved with First Tee.

“I learned not only golf, but I learned how to be mentally strong, and how to stay true to myself,” Duong said. “As a minority, I thought I’d be looked at differently. I thought I would have to change myself in order to fit in. But everyone was very open and non-judgmental.”

First Tee is a national for-youth nonprofit organization that was established 25 years ago. Youth get to play golf, but moreover, the organization creates learning experiences that build inner strength, self-confidence and resilience.

“What First Tee does is use golf as a tool to educate youth, socially, academically and physically,” said Paula Purifoy, CEO of First Tee-Colorado Rocky Mountains. “We do a lot of mentoring — it’s so much more than golf.”

The organization does this by instilling nine core values related to golf, which can be carried through a youth’s development.

The core values are:

Honesty - This encourages youth to honestly self report scores and penalties.

Integrity - This pushes youth to be responsible for their own actions on the golf course, even when no one is looking.

Sportsmanship - A value that teaches youth to observe the rules of play, and win or lose with grace.

Respect - To show respect for oneself, playing partners, competitors, the golf course and traditions of the game.

Confidence - Through being positive, this core value focuses on youth being more confident.

Responsibility - The lesson is to allow youth to learn and take responsiblity for their own actions.

Perseverance - Pushing youth to succeed in golf where players must continue through bad breaks and their own mistakes.

Courtesy - Starting and ending a game of golf with a handshake among competitors.

Judgment - Deciding strategy, and when to play safe and when to take a chance.

Daniel Reeves has been with First Tee for 20 years, starting when he was 19. Today, he serves as the executive director of the local chapter.

“We focus on making it fun and the relationships,” Reeves said, adding he enjoys seeing the youth grow up, become successful and, “creating as big of an opportunity as possible for others to help others.”

First Tee-Colorado Rocky Mountains offers two primary programs — on course and in school/after school.

The on course program runs for six weeks. It is a fee-based program, but scholarships are available.

The on course First Tee program is offered at 28 facilities across the state, with eight of them being in Denver, Purifoy said.

The in school/after school program is free to families. Part of this program entails working with physical education teachers to provide the training, equipment and lesson plans for their students.

First Tee’s school program is probably best known for its Read `N’ Swing. Aiming at continued education, a student reads with a First Tee staffer or volunteer, then after quality reading time, students participate in a golf activity.

Read `N’ Swing got its start at Columbine Elementary School, a Denver Public School located at 29th Avenue and Columbine Street, when the school was rated one of the lowest in the entire country for reading, Purifoy said.

The program saw so much success that it has now been expanded to 55 schools in the Denver-metro area, Purifoy said.

Headquartered at the City Park Golf Course in Denver, First Tee-Colorado Rocky Mountains is one of about 150 chapters located across the U.S. There are also some chapters abroad.

First Tee-Colorado Rocky Mountains is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

“In the beginning, (First Tee) served about 200 kids at City Park,” Purifoy said.

The program has grown since 2002. Citing 2019, Purifoy said, about 10,000 youth across the state are involved with First Tee annually.

On May 12, First Tee celebrated the grand opening of the Overland Park Junior Course — an event that was postponed for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Prices, of Parker, attended the celebration. Their son, Judson, 10, has had golf lessons in the past, but it was not a favorable experience, Sandra Price said.

The family is now thinking about getting Judson involved with First Tee.

“I like the fact that everyone is so engaged,” Sandra Price said. “And I like the community involvement.”

The Overland Golf Course was established in 1895. For adult and more experienced golfers, the course boasts challenges to players of any skill level.

Now with the junior course, Overland will be able to serve at least 500 youth, said Happy Haynes, executive director of Denver Parks & Recreation, at the May 12 event.

“We’re creating new leaders in this community,” Haynes said. “Through the game of golf, kids are growing in every way you can think of.”

First Tee-Colorado Rocky Mountains, golf, youth, Denver


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