WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — Lee Trevino doesn’t believe The First Tee has reached its professional.
The six-time major winner is concerned that the 20-year-old program, which teaches a mix of golf-inspired values and golf skills, isn’t having the impact it could on participation among younger players. While Trevino appreciates the life-lessons component of the program, he thinks the focus should shift toward getting junior players hooked on the sport.
However, Trevino knows that the prohibitive cost of the sport, particularly green fees, drives potential players from the game. He believes he had a low-cost plan that could fix that problem, especially in larger markets.
“I would like to see The First Tee start to beat up some mayors in some of these cities and say, ‘We want that golf course for The First Tee. We want The First Tee to have first tee times,'” Trevino said Monday at The Greenbrier.
Trevino believes marrying struggling municipal — or even privately owned — courses with The First Tee could be a win-win. The PGA of America could have apprentice members staff the courses, meaning they become a training ground for up-and-coming PGA professionals just as they’d be for the kids. Golf’s governing bodies could chip in some money to help operate the facilities, including making them kid-friendly. And, of course, the courses could sell reasonably priced memberships not only to kids but also adults who want to support The First Tee and would like a place to play when kids are in school.
“If the kids are in school, you sell memberships so other people can play,” Trevino said. “If the kids are out of school, they get the first preference of the tee times. If you have tee times open, you sell them to the public. But the kids need someplace to play.”
The Merry Mex believes The First Tee can only go so far with its current infrastructure to identify players who have a real interest in learning the game. He thinks an open tee sheet could reveal which juniors will be dedicated to improving.
“Sure, [The First Tee] taught them the game and give them a few golf balls and some golf clubs, but he or she can’t go out there and play when they want to,” he said. “You’ve got to let the kids go out there and play when they want to; that’s how you’ll find out who’s really interested.”
Consider it the TPC Network for children.
Trevino hopes that such a plan could inspire more players to go through the program and turn into successful professionals. So far, The First Tee has only turned out one PGA Tour pro: Scott Langley.