The First Tee of North Florida is all about introducing youth to the game of golf to develop a passion for the sport and life skills that they will carry with them as they become adults.
Creating experiences and opportunities is another great thing that the First Tee strives to achieve and for the second straight year it was able to offer four of its members to play THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
Tyson Brown, Miniya McNair, Katarina Hoag and Matthew Olsen each got to play the Stadium Course for the first time as part of a dream foursome on Aug. 5.
The opportunity was made possible thanks to a donation by Marsh Landing Country Club General Manager Chet Stokes, who is a former volunteer coach with the First Tee.
Brown is 15 years old and a sophomore at Ribault High School. He couldn’t believe when he first heard the news that he would be playing on the same course where THE PLAYERS Championship in contested.
“I was surprised,” Brown said. “I’ve been out here before, but never to play it.”
One of the things Brown was looking forward to most from the round was the chance to putt from the same spot that Tiger Woods stood when he sank his famous “better than most” putt during the third round of THE PLAYERS in 2001.
“I want to try to make that putt,” Brown said.
Brown has been involved with First Tee for the past six years, but his fascination for golf goes beyond that.
“I’ve wanted to play since I was 4 years old, but we didn’t have any way to get into it,” Brown said. “When I was 9 years old, I came out here to play and they asked me if I wanted to join the program. I’ve been a part of it ever since.”
For Hoag, she has also spent the past six years with First Tee. She is 17 years old and is homeschooled as a high school junior.
Despite all the golf she has played courtesy of First Tee over the years, playing the Stadium Course is not something everyone gets the opportunity to do.
“I was so excited, because it’s a rare opportunity and I’m very grateful for it,” Hoag said.
Hoag’s connection with golf is very family oriented, as her grandfather played, and her parents encouraged her to take up the game as well and give First Tee a try.
Over the years, Hoag has put a lot of work towards improving her full swing and her short game around the greens.
One of the toughest aspects of golf is putting, but that is something Hoag has always felt confident in.
“I’m really excited to play the whole course, but 17 is definitely one hole I’m looking forward to,” Hoag said. “Hopefully I’ll stay out of the water.”
The players were joined by PGA TOUR employees, who served as their caddies during the round.
“There will definitely be some high energy and probably some nerves out there,” business development manager Lily Morrison said prior to the round getting under way. “I play golf myself and am passionate about growing the game and getting more kids involve that might not always have the access to courses.”
Customized caddie bibs with each golfer’s name on the back were worn by the caddies, and each player was able to keep the bibs as an additional keepsake from the day.
Another special touch was that veteran announcer of THE PLAYERS Doug Kidd introduced each golfer as they stepped onto the first tee.
“I’m announcing the First Tee at the first tee,” Kidd said.
Not only did the golfers have the chance to play an iconic course, but they also had the opportunity to learn from industry professionals and develop new connections.
This was valuable networking for those like McNair, who is about to start her freshman year at Florida Gulf Coast University and plans on majoring in professional golf management.
Olsen is a senior at St. Augustine High School and hopes to pursue a career in electrical or chemical engineering.
“The First Tee is great about providing those life skills,” Morrison said. “It’s not just about golf.”
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