The First Tee of The Piney Woods in Longview brings joy and excitement to more than 400 local junior golfers every year. The program’s dedication to growing the game through junior golf was recently recognized by the Texas Golf Association Foundation. The First Tee of The Piney Woods was awarded both the Bill Penn and Winners’ Program Grants.
“These mean quite a bit to us,” said Jay Blint, Executive Director of The First Tee of The Piney Woods. “We’ve been really fortunate to be able to expand to two program sites, so the extra funding goes a long way in helping us continue to expand.”
The Winners’ Program, now in its 11th year, is a golf-and-grades initiative of the TGA Foundation in partnership with the LPGA/USGA Girls Golf of Texas Chapters. The program was created in 2008 to promote achievement in golf and in the classroom. Girls are encouraged to make good grades and turn in their report cards throughout the year. Over the years, each of the six chapters, including Piney Woods, has been a recipient of a Winners’ Program Grant.
The Bill Penn Grant, established in 2003, supports golf-related community outreach programs. Named after the TGA’s first full-time Executive Director, the Bill Penn Grant is awarded annually to eligible programs that provide local-level instruction, develop golf skills for juniors and introduce disadvantaged kids to the game. By making the sport more accessible for young people, Bill Penn Grant recipients serve the mission of the TGA Foundation by ensuring that the game of golf grows and prospers.
The First Tee of The Piney Woods is a shining example of the types of organizations that the TGA Foundation regularly looks to support.
“They have a terrific program with tons of kids,” said Kelly Kilgo, Managing Director of the TGA Foundation and Outreach. “Quite a few of the kids in the program have grown to be mentors and leaders for the younger players.”
The First Tee of The Piney Woods started in 2005. It’s located at the Alpine Target Golf Center, which features a complete practice and playing facility. The Drive Nine course has nine par-3s that range in distance from 90-200 yards. The course provides a great layout for junior golfers to grow their game.
The program is led by PGA professionals Roy Pace and Mike Williams. The dedicated instructors provide group clinics, private lessons and camps to players from all walks of life. The program emphasizes The First Tee’s Nine Core Values that represent some of the positive ideals connected with the game of golf.
“This place gives them the opportunity,” Williams said. “It is clear to everyone how their confidence and the way they hold their head changes when they are surrounded by this program.”
Pace and Williams, as well as the other coaches, incorporate The First Tee’s Nine Core Values into all their classes. Those values include: Honesty, Integrity, Sportsmanship, Respect, Confidence, Responsibility, Perseverance, Courtesy and Judgement. The coaches use these principles to connect the game of golf to real world scenarios.
The impact The First Tee of The Piney Woods has had on its community was evident when the TGA Foundation presented the award in June. Despite being a drizzly morning, nearly 50 young golfers, sporting wide and joyful smiles, were on hand for the ceremony. The First Tee of The Piney Woods plans to use the grant money to further develop their junior golfers and expand its programming.
“Most of this grant will go directly into new programs for next year as we try to expand the program to more kids for The First Tee,” Blint said. “Our goal is to reach 500 kids in a year, and this is a huge help.”