The First Tee takes hold in Greater Austin with new golf course

By William K. Wolfrum, Contributor

By opening the Harvey Penick Golf Campus in 2005, The First Tee of Greater Austin became one of just a handful of First Tee chapters to own and operate its own course.

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Since its inception in 1997 The First Tee has grown rapidly, using golf as a life-learning tool.
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It also gave Marketing Manager Matt Gardiner a demanding job - letting people know the course is public and looking for players.

"People will come up to me and say, 'Hey, we played The First Tee,'" Gardiner said. "I just say, 'No! It's not The First Tee. It's Harvey Penick Golf Campus.'"

The confusion is understandable. Since it's inception in 1997 with support from the World Golf Federation, The First Tee has grown into one of the largest programs in the nation to help kids discover golf and develop positive life skills.

The First Tee's "Life Skills Education" program uses fun, golf-related exercises to teach kids lessons in maintaining a positive attitude, defining and setting goals, and building values such as responsibility, respect and sportsmanship into their everyday lives. While The First Tee works mainly with schools as an after-school activity, it also offers programs for kids whose schools aren't signed up for the program.

And while the kids get use of the Harvey Penick Golf Campus on afternoons and weekends, the course remains open 365 days a year for public play, as Gardiner is quick to point out.

"It's a PGA layout and nine holes to walk is $11," Gardiner said. "For a cart it's another $8.25, so it's a quality, affordable golf experience."

While The First Tee of Greater Austin has been around since 2001, it was the opening of the Harvey Penick Golf Campus that allowed it to more than double the capacity of its program. The grand opening was held in April 2005, with Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, LPGA player Cindy Figg-Currier, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and The First Tee Executive Director Joe Louis Barrow Jr. on hand.

Gardiner and crew were quick to take advantage of the course's notoriety. In September 2005 it hosted a "Battle of the Sexes" charity skins tournament with Figg-Currier and 2003 Women's U.S. Open champion Hillary Lunke, both Austin residents, taking on local radio host Bucky Godbolt, who had bragged on the air that no woman in town could beat him on the course.

The battle benefited LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, a junior program offered through The First Tee of Greater Austin, and also grabbed some headlines for the course. Better still, the match ended in a tie, and the contestants are raring to go for a rematch this year.

The First Tee of Greater Austin is also celebrating the success of one of its first members, Preston Schaub. Schaub, who plays on the James Bowie High School golf team and has competed in several state and regional junior tournaments, was recently named a First Tee Scholar, giving him a free ride to one of several universities, where he can fulfill his dream of playing college golf.

"The program is not geared to create the new Tiger Woods or the next great golf sensation," said Gardiner. "Preston is a unique situation in that he picked up the game of golf and was good at it. So now he has a list of schools he can choose from.

"He's been a great motivator for our kids and totally gets what the program is for, and now he's also a mentor for us," Gardiner said.

Still, even with The First Tee entrenched in the Greater Austin area and the program yielding tangible results, Gardiner remains a man on a marketing mission.

"A really cool aspect of our golf course is that all proceeds go back into subsidizing The First Tee Austin youth-programming efforts," he said. "So you get to play a great course and know you're benefiting kids."

Anything else?

"Come out and play you'll enjoy it!"

For more information

The First Tee of Greater Austin
LPGA-USGA Girls Golf of Austin
1250 Capital of Texas Highway, Ste. 560
Austin, TX 78746
Phone: 512-732-0380
Web site:

Harvey Penick Golf Campus
5501 Ed Bluestein Blvd.
Austin, TX 78723
Phone: 512-926-1100
Web site:

William K. WolfrumWilliam K. Wolfrum, Contributor

William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.

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