The Texas Golf Association Foundation, the chartiable arm of the TGA, recognized The First Tee of The Piney Woods with both the Bill Penn and Winners’ Program Grants in June. Fast forward five months, and the East Texas youth organization’s commitment to growing the game through junior golf has continued to expand. The First Tee of The Piney Woods used the TGA funds to launch development programs in two new cities, host cost-free clinics for kids and draw up plans to renovate the sixth green at The First Tee Wee Links in Longview.

“These grants allowed us to do some things we would have never been able to do,” The First Tee of The Piney Woods Executive Director Jay Blint said.

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 Texas 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 great example of the kinds of programs the TGA Foundation is looking to support,” TGA Foundation Managing Director Kelly Kilgo said. “They reach hundreds of kids and many of them stick with the program and continue to pursue the game of the golf.”

In 2019, The First Tee of The Piney Woods expanded its youth development program to the Hallsville Texas Boys and Girls Club. This allowed 29 kids between the ages of 7-12 to attend four weeks of golf clinics. Many of the kids experienced swinging a golf club for the first time.

One month later, The First Tee of The Piney Woods launched a new program at The Tempest Golf Club in Gladewater. The initiative gave access to a completely different group of kids and expanded The First Tee’s exposure.

“The Tempest Golf Club is probably one of the nicest courses in East Texas,” Blint said. “It’s a totally different clientele and we would have never been able to reach those people without the expansion. We now hit both ends of the economic spectrum.”

The funding also allowed the chapter to host a 100-percent cost-free, two-hour clinic for youths new to the game. Every kid who attended received a golf club following the event and many of the kids signed up for future clinics. The First Tee of The Piney Woods plans to hold similar events multiple times every year.

In October, The First Tee of The Piney Woods sent 24 golfers along with several First Tee coaches to play in a benefit event for the Texas Wounded Warriors at The Cascades Golf Club in Tyler. The First Tee kids partnered with players from the Wounded Warrior Program and opened the eyes of those who attended. According to Blint, it was a life changing event for the youth and their Wounded Warrior partners.

“Everybody’s life got changed that day,” Blint said. “It was one of those once in a lifetime experiences and it wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have the extra money.”

The First Tee of The Piney Woods will continue expanding with the goal to reach at least 500 kids in 2020. The chapter plans to make some changes at home as well. Some of the grant funds will go toward the renovation of the sixth green at The First Tee Wee Links at the Longview Boys and Girls Club.

“It had some flooding last spring and the green is washed out,” Blint said. “We are going to do a permanent fix so the kids will always have a complete course to play especially with the addition of the older kids.”

Next year, the program in Longview will include players ages 13-17. The First Tee of The Piney Woods previously has been limited to children ages 12 and under as part of the Boys and Girls Club. The Drive 360 Program, targeted at the 13-17 age group, has opened the door for The First Tee of The Piney Woods to attract many more kids in the community.

“The money of being able to teach the younger kids and get that program off the ground has opened the door for even more expansion next year,” Blint said.

For more information about the Bill Penn Grant, Winners’ Program and TGA Foundation, click here.