DALLAS – Miyoko, originally from Singapore, is a junior at Coppell High School who moved to the United States when her father gained employment working on helicopters in Dallas, Texas. Her father eventually returned to Singapore for work while her mother stayed in the United States to help raise Miyoko and her two older sisters. While her father sends money back to the States from Singapore, Miyoko and her sisters relied on the First Tee — a youth development organization — to open doors and access to golf, the sport they all love.
Now, thanks to a new ClubLife Gateway Program being piloted by ClubCorp – The World Leader in Private Clubs® – and First Tee, Hackberry Creek Country Club has also opened its doors to Miyoko. She has received a complimentary junior membership at a premier private club near her home to develop her game and explore the possibilities golf can provide for her future. Currently offered in Dallas and Fort Worth, the program provides First Tee participants with junior golf memberships – which include tee times, use of practice areas and the opportunity to compete in events – and club members serving as mentors to the youth, empowering them to build their strength of character on and off the course. These participants have earned these opportunities for their personal growth and development through the First Tee program, as well as their playing ability.
For Miyoko, the youngest of three sisters, the access to Hackberry Creek provides an opportunity to play and practice at a higher level and access to a mentor who is a leader in the business world who can support her as she pursues her collegiate goals. Miyoko has never met a stranger, and hopes that with her positive attitude and perseverance, golf can help her fulfill her dreams of college and beyond, even in a country not all of her family calls home.
Kamaiu Johnson, who is making his first career PGA TOUR start at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, has his own story of perseverance and determination. Johnson dropped out of school in the 8th grade after a difficult upbringing. Tallahassee City golf superintendent Jan Auger spotted Kamaiu, then 13 years old, swinging a stick outside an apartment complex that bordered Hilaman Park Golf Course. Auger told Johnson to head back to the clubhouse, where there would be a 9-iron and a bucket of balls waiting for him. This moment changed the course of his life.
Auger offered Kamaiu a deal. If he helped around the club, picking up range balls, washing carts and painting the pro shop, then she’d let him play there for $1 a round. “And then I never got rid of him,” Auger recalls.
Johnson’s role as ambassador of the ClubLife Gateway program will include being available to the teen participants for advice both on and off the course, sharing his story with ClubCorp leadership and also to work with mentors in the program to better understand how they can help guide the paths of these driven young people.
“We are extremely excited to be working with First Tee and Kamaiu Johnson to pilot this program designed to welcome more youth from diverse backgrounds to our clubs,” said ClubCorp CEO David Pillsbury. “When I learned of Kamaiu’s story, I immediately found a way to get him involved in this program. I heard him say in his interview that, ‘we have to make golf look more like America,’ and I couldn’t agree more. Our members have enthusiastically and emphatically stepped up to volunteer to share their love of the game with these aspiring young players and empower them to take on new challenge as they pursue their goals. These are remarkable teens with remarkable stories who have earned everything they are receiving and more. Creating access for First Tee teens who otherwise may not have the opportunity to join a private Club embodies ClubCorp’s commitment to grow the game and also is a key component in our companywide initiative to improve diversity and inclusion at our clubs and in the golf industry as a whole.”
“This is exactly the type of program that can make a difference for so many young people who are going through similar struggles that I went through as a young adult. Having access to clubs and courses at ClubCorp facilities is a huge step for First Tee kids,” Johnson said. “Jan Auger not only introduced me to golf, but being at the golf course and around the people at the course, I learned even more about life and how to carry myself. These kids will have that same opportunity. This program is exactly what needs to happen in the golf industry to make the sport more diverse and I am so excited that ClubCorp and David Pillsbury have asked me to be involved.”
Miyoko is one of 37 First Tee participants that have gone through the pilot program to date, each with their own story of developing inner-strength, confidence and resilience through golf.
Haili (Stonebridge Ranch Country Club) is an accomplished golfer and is committed to play at the University of Kansas next year. She is very vocal about her struggles with personal confidence as a child, and the effect First Tee had on shaping her as a young woman. She is a regular speaker at First Tee events and has shown an incredible amount of integrity by helping the younger participants through sharing her own experiences.
Ty (Canyon Creek Country Club) had limited contact from his mother until he was 12 years old. His father, a former football player at SMU, has physical complications but has never missed a single event Ty was a part of. Ty has used golf and other sports as a means to develop his character and life skills that he can take to other areas of his life. His experience at First Tee has helped him develop his confidence to join his high school golf team, and he recently won his first high school tournament shortly after receiving his ClubCorp membership.
Jacob (Oakmont Country Club) lives with his grandparents and his sister, with his mom not being a constant presence in his life. Jacob is an avid golfer that competed in the national Drive, Chip and Putt competition at Augusta in 2017 and now has a place where he can continue to improve. Jacob personifies courtesy and sportsmanship. He has made lasting friendships with other participants and people in the community who have helped him propel his soaring golf game even further.
First Tee participants are selected for the program based on their involvement in First Tee and interest in taking their experience to a deeper level as they progress through the program and toward higher education opportunities. Once in the program, the member mentors, who volunteer their time, showcase the fun and benefits of golf while guiding them to strengthen what’s inside to pursue their academic and career goals. In addition, the member mentor supports the participants ensuring they’re comfortable and engaging in all the Club has to offer by:
• Playing rounds of golf with the First Tee participants
• Connecting to find common ground between participant and mentor
• Making introductions to other junior golfers
• Engaging alongside participants in First Tee-sponsored activities and events
To date, 11 Dallas-Fort Worth-area clubs have launched the ClubLife Gateway Program, including Brookhaven Country Club in Farmers Branch; Canyon Creek Country Club in Richardson; The Clubs of Prestonwood in Dallas; Gleneagles Country Club in Plano; Hackberry Creek Country Club in Irving; Stonebriar Country Club in Frisco; Stonebridge Ranch Country Club in McKinney; Timarron Country Club in Southlake; Trophy Country Club in Trophy Club, Oakmont Country Club in Corinth, TX and Walnut Creek Country Club in Mansfield. Additional DFW-area clubs are in the process of launching soon.
First Tee is a youth development organization that enables kids to build the strength of character that empowers them through a lifetime of new challenges. By seamlessly integrating the game of golf with a life skills curriculum, First Tee creates active learning experiences that build inner strength, self-confidence and resilience that kids can carry to everything they do. These character education programs are offered at golf courses, schools and youth centers in all 50 states and six international locations.