First Tee Blue Ridge Making a Difference in Central VA

By Jerry Ratcliffe / The Daily Progress

First Tee Blue Ridge making a difference in Central Virginia

If you would really like to do something for Central Virginia, specifically youngsters that reside in our area, then check out First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge. The organization is on the comeback trail and stronger than ever. A previous First Tee program survived by the skin of its teeth for just over a decade before going under when the City of Charlottesville pulled the plug on funding. First Tee Blue Ridge receives no city or county money. All funding raised remains right here, and is making a major impact with kids. The reorganized group reached approximately 5,000 youth last year, and get this … operates with a four-person staff plus a group of volunteers.

If you’re not familiar with the First Tee program, then you likely jump to the conclusion that it is all about golf. You’re not alone. First Tee uses golf as a platform, but that’s only where it begins. First Tee Blue Ridge’s mission is to teach the nine core values to its students, values such as integrity, respect and perseverance through the game of golf. Yes, kids are learning the game at the same time, but so much more. Thanks to Farmington Country Club, Birdwood Golf Club and The Highlands practice range in Ruckersville, kids are learning in quality, safe environments and taught by instructors who care about kids.

The program touches youth in Charlottesville, Albemarle, Buckingham, Orange, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson counties and is involved in 11 elementary schools (tied in with the physical education programs), and all six Boys and Girls Clubs in the area. Within the past year, the Charlottesville Police Department has joined forces with First Tee. Sgt. Joey Lewis recruited some kids from Walker Upper Elementary School and picks them up at 3:15 for a van ride to Birdwood.

Along the way, officers and kids strike up conversation and form a relationship before golf and core value training begins at the Birdwood practice range.


If you don’t believe First Tee is making a difference, talk to someone involved in the program as a leader, instructor, or better yet, talk to one of the parents of a kid involved. Some of these kids will become good golfers and perhaps even earn a college scholarship. Others will just enjoy the game through life, and some, eh, may lose interest in golf along the way.

What will be everlasting are the life lessons and core values.


Jin Ellington, the Blue Ridge chapter’s executive director, wants all her First Tee kids to eventually exit the program with what she calls her five C’s: competence, connection, confidence, character and caring. Oh, and a bonus one, contribution, as in giving back to the program and the community. “This is a dream curriculum, one of the best I’ve found,” said Dr. Ellen Markowitz, assistant professor at UVa and the program’s keynote speaker at its annual spring luncheon. Markowitz has traveled the country in a life-long association with sports-based youth development programs, something she is passionate about. She spent 20 years in New York City with an involvement with youth development before coming to Charlottesville. “First Tee makes an incredible difference,” Markowitz said. “I know how hard Jin and everyone in the organization works. Life skills must be taught. It’s not just about putting, chipping and driving. First Tee is one of the best groups in the country teaching these values.”

Ellington wants the First Tee kids to be college ready, career ready and community ready after they go through the program. Notice there was no mention of golf in that mission statement?

What better way to help kids grow in your own community while having fun at the same time? Naturally, none of this comes cheap. Like any group, it requires financial support. If you’re a golfer, the most enjoyable way you can support the group financially is to participate in the organization’s largest fundraising event, its annual golf tournament. The First Tee Invitational will be held July 16 at two locations, Farmington and Keswick Hall’s Full Cry golf courses. If you regularly read this column, then you know that both Farmington and Keswick were recently named among the top five golf courses in the state by the Virginia Golf Ratings Panel’s Top 50. Spaces are limited, so if you’re interested in playing or buying a foursome for your company, contact First Tee pronto. If you don’t play or can’t play, you can become an event sponsor or contributor.


For more information on how you can participate in assisting the tournament or the First Tee organization in general, check out its website:, or contact Ellington at (434) 987-0133.


You’ll be investing in Central Virginia’s future.