On a snowy March morning, young Cleveland golfers were focusing not on the course but on a “Fit to a Tee” cooking class.
Students learned to cook for themselves, making healthy snacks, including “secret brownies” – the secret coming from pureed carrots and spinach as ingredients. Along the way, they were taught the proper way to hold a knife – with your fingers in and moving the knife as little as possible to avoid accidents. They also learned the importance of cleaning up as you go.
“Treat this like you would the golf course,” says Brian McFarland, program director for the First Tee of Cleveland. “Leave it better than you found it.”
First Tee, now in its 18th year in Cleveland, is about “building the child, and golf is just a part of that,” says McFarland.
By helping kids improve their golf game, they’re teaching goal-setting and accountability, which will hopefully be applied in school and at home. “We encourage kids to talk about their goals, because that way it’s more likely they’ll achieve them,” says McFarland.
The cooking class gave way to a caddying class in the afternoon. As it began, McFarland made a point to remove all the chairs – standing for the entire class would prepare them for caddying, a job that will keep them on their feet for hours at a time. The program director also asks the students to stay with the class for its entire four weeks, even if they realize the class isn’t for them. Fulfilling that commitment is the kind of integrity the First Tee tries to teach.
“It looks like a standard golf lesson, but if we do it right, we’re seamlessly integrating teaching about life skills and core values,” McFarland says. “And that’s a bridge into life applications.”
The dividends are noticeable outside the golf course. Brandon Rubino, 11, and his 10-year-old sister Lauren both started participating in the program as soon as they were old enough.
“The growth they’ve shown has been phenomenal,” says their mother Jennifer. “Adults tell me how respectful they are – even when they’re not with me. It’s noticeable.”
The national First Tee program formed in 1997, and the Cleveland chapter started with someone who had success in another sport – former Indians slugger Andre Thornton.
Learn about First Tee programs, meet the coaches and participate in golf activities at an open house from 10 a.m. to noon April 7 at locations in Euclid, Macedonia, Newburgh Heights and Olmsted Township. Registration is available for ages 6 to 18.