Teeing Up the Future

The First Tee teaches local youth life lessons along with the game of golf.
photographs by cheryl gerber


Ever since the 1400s, when a Scot first used a club to hit a wooden ball, golf has been about more than just a precision putt or a soaring drive; it’s been a mental and physical challenge, a friendly competition and a game of ethics and honesty.

“In golf, players regularly call penalties on themselves and report their own score,” says Ainslie Blanke, operations and communications manager for The First Tee of Greater New Orleans, a youth development organization that provides educational programs that build character through the game of golf. The First Tee operates out of 12 partnering golf courses in the Greater New Orleans Area, where registered Life Skills Experience participants and their parents receive free or discounted rounds of golf.

“It’s all about one’s integrity and playing it as it lies.”

To 18-year-old golfer Lori Launey, a First Tee participant, golf is also about making major mental decisions.

“Like, should I make a risky shot now or play more conservatively,” she says. “It’s like life, and if you’re having a bad day and you’re struggling and then you make that connection — where your swing works, and your ball goes further than you ever thought possible — it’s in that moment with a well-hit shot that your struggles can take a 180.”

Launey’s mother, Karen, signed her daughter up to The First Tee program during a very challenging time in Lori’s life.

“She was depressed and just sitting on the sofa living other people’s lives on social media,” Karen Launey said. “This is a great program. I said, ‘This is great news. You’ll get to wear cute outfits, ride in a golf cart and learn how to play golf.’ That one decision totally changed the direction and the whole meaning of her life. And saying just that is still a huge understatement. The First Tee made her a whole new person.”

The First Tee serves youth ages 5 to 18 at local golf courses and parks during after-school hours, weekends and the summer months. The organization’s school program provides teachers and physical educators with the tools to introduce golf to students by providing training, lesson plans, equipment and ongoing support to schools and youth centers. The First Tee of Greater New Orleans currently serves more than 27,000 participants in more than 55 local schools and youth groups.

Globally, The First Tee was started in 1997 by the World Golf Foundation as a way to bring an affordable junior golf program to communities that did not have them, especially in economically disadvantaged areas. There are more than 160 chapters nationwide, and programs are currently offered at six international locations.

The First Tee participants are introduced to nine core values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment. And the organization’s nine healthy habits include: energy, play, safety, vision, mind, family, friends, school and community.

“The First Tee is more than just a junior golf program,” said Blanke. “Our motto is, ‘We don’t just build better golfers. We build character.’ Our purpose isn’t to produce the next Tiger Woods — not that we wouldn’t love it if we did — our goal is to help positively influence the young people of our community.”

Chip Patterson, executive director of The First Tee, added that proficiency at golf can also help young people in the business world when it comes to networking.

“A perfect example is when we had a high school student in our program a couple of years ago who met an executive with Morgan Stanley at one of our events,” he said. “She was later offered an internship at their offices in New York City as a result of their meeting. For the kids in our program to be able to play a round a golf is extremely valuable and it can open doors and opportunities for them later on in life that they might not necessarily have if they couldn’t play.”

Robert Narcisse said his 14-year-old son Kobe has met many good people, mentors, golf pros and friends during his seven years with the program. Kobe attends Thomas Jefferson High School in Gretna, where he plays football and golf. He just qualified to play in the state regionals.

“This program jump starts kids’ lives,” Robert Narcisse said. “They get scholarships to prestigious schools like Stanford. This has been an opportunity of a lifetime for him.”



First Tee

To impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.

1050 S. Jefferson Davis Pkwy.
Suite 237

Annual Budget
Current Needs
Office furniture, tech, and software. “What I wouldn’t give for Photoshop or Raiser’s Edge,” said Blanke.

A Good Match


can provide pro-bono/in-kind marketing and advertising services, especially print, television, and radio. The First Tee is willing to trade for professional services. “Services provided by graphic designers and printers are invaluable to nonprofits,” said Blanke.

Ainslie Blanke, operations and communications manager for The First Tee of Greater New Orleans


By The Numbers


Nationally in 2018, The First Tee served more than 28,000 youth through its Life Skills Experience Program, its National School Program and community outreach.

Nearly 80 percent of the students who participate in its programs are qualified for Federal Free and Reduced Lunch and participate at no cost through donor-provided scholarships.

The First Tee of Greater New Orleans operates out of 12 partnering golf courses in the Greater New Orleans Area, where registered Life Skills Experience participants and their parents receive free or discounted rounds of golf to practice.

The First Tee National School Program

Programs offered in all 50 states.

More than 5 million young people have received character education through the game of golf