The First Tee of Monterey County

The First Tee of Monterey County

Salinas and King City Expansion

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Last Update: August 6, 2014

The First Tee of Monterey County is the largest and most successful youth services program in the county. By expanding our clubhouse restaurant-turned study room into an additional building on our Salinas property and servicing students in King City, we will be meeting an important community need.

Founded: 2004 Type: citizen sector

The Problem

Youth who are failing in school in Salinas and have little parental guidance join gangs because they cannot envision a future for themselves that is a better alternative. The situation is the same in King City, where limited English-speaking kids are being taught that the only thing they are good at is failing. There are very few alternatives in either city that offer healthy, structured recreation and life skills building.

The Solution

With The First Tee, coaches and trained adult mentors deliver a 4-level curriculum (Player, Par, Birdie, Eagle) of 27 lessons that teach life skills, leadership, and empathy to youth through structured golf-based activities. It is a radical concept as golf has always been viewed as an elitist sport for the privileged class only. Additional activities include academic and scholarship application tutoring and summer camps. The First Tee works to break down social barriers and enable children to experience success, and supports them in planning a productive future. Our outcomes show that participants are able to successfully compete for scholarships and continue on to college and careers and become empathetic and strong community leaders.


A few years ago, Jose was having behavioral problems in school and running with the wrong crowd. He could see The First Tee golf course from his home but thought it was a “rich man’s game”. After visiting TFTMC on a field trip, he begged his parents to put him in the after-school program. Jose visited every afternoon, and his parents now join him on the driving range. He recently received a commendation for earning all A’s and B’s on his report card, and his mother commented (in Spanish) that “golf has turned him into a gentleman”. Golf has expanded Jose's world in other ways. Jose lives less than 20 miles from the ocean, but had never seen it, until The First Tee field trip took him to the Nature Valley First Tee Open for a clinic.


• Enrollment grew from 974 in 2006 to 6,000 in 2013. • The participants who made the A/B honor roll increased from 1% to 14% in 2013, and seven college scholarships were awarded to seniors this year. Independent research revealed the following: • Participants unanimously identified school as a setting in which they transferred life skills. • 73% reported high confidence in their ability to do well academically. • 82% felt confident in their social skills with peers. • 57% credited The First Tee for their meeting and greeting skills. • 52% credited the program for their ability to appreciate diversity. We measure success not by the ability of the kids as golfers, but by their character development and acquisition of life-enhancing values. We track participant progress through the 4 life skills levels and number of kids on the A/B honor role.

Full Impact Potential

With increased capacity to serve at-risk youth of Monterey County by expanding the space at the Salinas facility and implementing services in South Monterey County, The First Tee of Monterey County can broaden access to positive futures for the children who are our local legacy. During 2014-15 we could enroll 400 students in King City and purchase cutting-edge technology for our student center, as a fundraising plan and funding for the construction of the facility has already been accomplished. With separate and multiple rooms, we can greatly expand our services to Salinas youth.

Budget: More than $1 million

Financial Sources

Individuals, Foundations, NGO, Clients

Sustainability Plan

The First Tee of Monterey County is unique for its roster of "heavy hitters" including initial supporters, Ollie Nutt (Monterey Peninsula Foundation), Peter Ueberroth and Clint Eastwood. The PGA Tour, USGA, PGA of America, LPGA and Masters are all major supporters nationwide. Added to the support of the golfing community is the financial support of the wealthy agricultural community. Transportation to golf courses is provided by The First Tee.


There are a couple other organizations that have the capacity to offer programming to Salinas youth, such as the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA. However, The First Tee of Monterey County offers structured programming in the context of sports, which is a very successful approach. New chapters are launched relatively easily. Once the head office approves a new chapter application, up to $35k per year startup grants are available from head office up to 4 years, with free fundraising tips and materials. There is nothing in King City for youth on the scale of First Tee of Monterey County.

Founding Story

In 1997 after Tiger Woods emerged as a cross-cultural superstar who had been raised on ratty golf courses, The First Tee was born in New York. John Zoller, a highly regarded golf course designer learned of First Tee in NY, he approached the AT&T tournament Board with the idea of developing a plot of land in Seaside for a Monterey County chapter. He had humble beginnings, was given his first golf clubs, had done well, and wanted to give something back. In a serendipitous event, the City of Salinas wanted to sell the nine-hole Twin Creeks course as it was financially draining to the City, and Salinas was (and still is) in desperate need of youth activities and recreation that are structured and divert kids away from gangs.

Team Explanation

David Gill: Chair, Board of Directors, successful farmer in King City; highly regarded in the ag business. Highly influential; key fundraiser. Barry Phillips: Executive Director; strong passion for the mission; a visionary. Nick Nelson: Deputy Executive Director, our founding golf professional; passion for teaching youth. Will Franzell: Highly qualified teacher; with The First Tee 5 years; our champion within the public school system.

Team Members


Building Vibrant Communities: Activating Empathy to Create Change

Supplemental Information

On which of the following California counties does your project focus its impact? (check all that apply):


How does your idea help cultivate empathy skills to strengthen communities and equip young people to become leaders of change?

Teachable moments (doing vs. telling) in the curriculum are set within the context of golf. Once participants recognize diversity between themselves and others, they learn to understand, accept, and appreciate their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as in those in others. One example is golf team competitions, where students choose team members based on complementary strengths, eg good putting, good strategist, good long drive, etc. Also by fostering an understanding in youth of how social barriers affect us, they become adept at recognizing them for what they are and not allowing them to impede their dreams and goals. Participants who are free and no longer afraid to express their passion develop into leaders of change.




The First Tee of Monterey County has a strong mentoring program called “Pay It Forward” which is both innovative and sustainable

Tell us about your partnerships

Partnerships include the Alisal Union School District and the Department of Defense (Navy and Army), which supply us with the raw material we need for our programming – participants. A new partner is King City Union School District, which expressed recent interest in our program. We chose to work with these partners because they have the highest need in our region, and are willing participants in the collaboration.


Teachers are under pressure to stay on track according to their school's master schedule, with the goal of raising STAR test scores. Most do not understand the value of our program, even though the Superintendents and Principals understand. Parents are not prepared to spend time with their children, which makes communication difficult. Due to fear of "administration" we find that 40% of our contact data for participants is falsified. Social and class barriers, and fear of change make parents hesitant to participate. We overcome these by example, and word of our success spreads.

Does your project use any of the following approaches to cultivate community members as empathetic and collaborative leaders?

encouraging philanthropy, creating a safe space, developing emotional competency, building leadership skills, group play, storytelling, immersion, collective problem-solving, identifying shared values and differences, instilling courage, enabling action.

Target Age Group(s)

6-12, 13-17, 18-35.

Comments & Activity

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Comments & Activity


Aurelio Salazar, Jr. profile img
Wed, 08/20/2014 - 11:48

Keep up the good work.