By Tripp Laino
Bryana Nguyen walked the fairways of the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links — widely regarded as one of America’s best courses — putted on its greens and played where many of the greatest pros have played.
And she might not have ever had the opportunity without the help of The First Tee of Howard County, located at Fairway Hills Golf Club in Columbia.
“The First Tee definitely started it for me — I give it all the credit,” said Nguyen, now a member of the University of North Carolina’s women’s golf team.
“Obviously my dad could have taught me, but I wasn’t playing that much golf before starting with The First Tee, and that led me to getting more serious,” she said. “And getting to play Pebble Beach — that actually got my coach’s attention at UNC. I sent her the highlight reel from Pebble Beach, and it really stood out to her.”
The First Tee is a World Golf Foundation initiative dedicated to the creation of new facilities and access to golf. It places a special emphasis on kids who otherwise may not have an opportunity to experience the game. The organization hosts an annual tournament for members at Pebble Beach Golf Links, and Nguyen played as a representative of Howard County.
The program, which started at Fairway Hills in 2000, teaches about 600 kids each year on the golf course or affiliate courses, with thousands more participating through programs at their school — 35 of the 42 schools in Howard County have the program.
Children as young as 5 can join, and the program is divided into age groups so players are with others of a similar skill level for learning the game. Throughout the year, players get the opportunity for golf instruction, life skills and tournaments with other neighboring First Tee programs, like Prince George’s County.
But The First Tee is much more than golf — it’s also a way to learn important life skills, Nguyen said.
“What I always tell people is how much I enjoyed the life skills portion of the program,” she said.
“Obviously you’re learning how to golf, but also important things that will help you outside of golf, all of those core values like shaking someone’s hand and how to show respect. Golf is a sport that you need those values for, but also to pursue things outside of golf.”
Golf is seen as the perfect sport to teach the nine core values that The First Tee instills: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
“The thing that separates The First Tee from other junior golf programs is the life skills experience,” said Don Van Deusen, executive director of The First Tee of Howard County and assistant general manager of Fairway Hills Golf Club. “Part of the curriculum is that each week we teach a core value, and it can be something as simple as handshakes and greetings — a firm handshake, making eye contact and smiling.”
Logan Lurie has been in the program for about seven years. The 16-year-old Howard High student joined after her older sister enjoyed the program. Logan has had several major opportunities through the program, including being chosen as one of eight speakers at the Outstanding Participant Leadership Summit in 2017.
“The cool thing about The First Tee is that it’s not just a golf program,” she said. “It’s about learning how to be successful in your future.”
To learn more about The First Tee or to sign up, visit TheFirstTeeHowardCounty.org.