NORMAN, Okla. — Brennan Fanning’s first love was baseball. The Moore native began throwing the ball around at the age of 4 and like many kids, seemed destined to continue playing it throughout his formative years.
However, a strange thing happened on Fanning’s way to a long baseball career. He discovered The First Tee program when he was 9 years old. Since then golf has become more than just a pastime for the 17-year old, it’s become a passion.
“I feel like I’m doing way better,” Fanning said. “I feel like I can accomplish more in golf than baseball. I learned a lot being in the First Tee all these years.”
Fanning and his younger brother Bryce, 16, are just two of the millions of teenagers and kids who have taken part in the First Tee Program since it was first introduced more than 15 years ago.
In 1997, the LGPA, Masters Tournament, PGA of America, PGA Tour and USGA formed a partnership with the help of founding corporate partner Shell Oil to lead an initiative called The First Tee.
This initiative began as a way to bring golf to kids and teens that otherwise would not be exposed to the game and its positive values.
Since that time, The First Tee has steadily grown into a youth service organization, impacting, influencing and inspiring more than 7.6 million young people.
“First Tee provides the opportunity for your student to learn essential life skills, meet other children and be mentored by a positive adult while having fun,” said Debi Martin, executive director for the local First Tee chapter. “We are a program to support the efforts of parents and to expose children to these life skills if they are not already being taught in the home. We want to see each and every child reach their potential.”
Heading into its 16th year, there are 189 chapters and approximately 750 programming locations spanning all 50 U.S. states and select international locations.
First Tee is available to all children 7 to 17 years of age. The cost is $25 per eight-week session.
However, scholarships are available.
According to Martin, the local First Tee chapter began in 2003 with The First Tee of Metropolitan Oklahoma City at James E. Stewart Golf Course. They began with 75 inner-city students.
Since then, First Tee programming is delivered at Lake Hefner Golf Course, Earlywine Park Golf Course, First Tee Facility, Kickingbird Golf Course, Fairfax Golf Course, John Conrad Golf Course and Westwood Park Golf Course.
Westwood’s David and Cheryl Lisle were recently named Chesapeake Energy Community All-Stars for their work with The First Tee, and their efforts to help bring the national program to the Norman Public School District’s 17 elementary schools.
“Our best marketing tool is referral by parents and families of First Tee,” Martin said. “The greatest challenge is making the community-perspective parents and students aware of the program. Program information is provided through media outlets, schools, First Tee events, special stories.”
One of those events includes The First Tee Training Program at the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy at Hilton Head Island, S.C. According to officials, it’s the only academy in the world to provide training, academics and competition for serious junior golfers. During the program, The First Tee golfers receive world-class instruction in full swing, short game, course management, mental preparation, fitness training and even college placement services.
Brennan and Bryce Fanning were nominated by the local chapter to attend the Hank Haney academy June 3-9. They were joined by 50 other participants representing 40 chapters across the U.S., which took place earlier this year. They have also taken part in The First Tee’s Life Skills and Leadership Academy.
“First Tee students experience life skills education, healthy starts and golf instruction through this certification system,” Martin said. “Student outcomes are increased communication skills, social skills, confidence, improved academic performance. As students elevate through the formalized First Tee levels, they are eligible to participate in a variety of First Tee participant programs.”
Nine core values are the foundation of its program: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, courtesy, confidence, respect, responsibility, judgment and perseverance. This is coupled with the nine healthy habits which include the emotional, social and physical well-being of a child.
“I just like the way it’s not all golf,” Brennan Fanning said.
“I like the way they teach all the nine core values. It’s helped me become a better person and people really recognize and notice it. They talk to me and Bryce about it. They just let us know they notice that it’s helped us a lot with the way we approach people and talk to them. Going to The First Tee was one of the best decisions I ever made.”