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The First Tee

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Yale School of Management
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At the time, many argued that Sunday, April 13, 1997 was going to be a watershed moment in the history of golf. That day, Tiger Woods won the Masters by 12 strokes, shooting a tournament record 18-under par. Woods was only 21-years old and was playing in his first major golf tournament as a professional. Besides becoming the youngest player to win the Masters, he was also the first African-American to win a major. And he managed this feat at Augusta National Club, one of the last championship courses to accept African-Americans as members.

The event captured the nation’s attention. The television ratings for the final round were the highest ever for a golf event, even though there was no real tension about the results. Woods entered the day leading by nine strokes and after his first few holes, it was clear that no one in the field was going to challenge him. What attracted viewers was the extraordinary nature of the achievement.

In the weeks following Woods’s historic win, newspapers throughout the country chronicled the 'Tiger effect.' Children, especially those in minority communities, tried golf for the first time. Junior golf clinics reported large increases in participants. Nike Golf, a Woods sponsor even before the Masters, ran an ad in which a multi-racial cast of boys and girls declared "I am Tiger Woods."

This increase in interest was welcome by the leaders of the golf industry. The game had always been associated with white, middle-aged, male participants. During the late 1980s, golf had undergone an upswing as baby boomers were reaching the age at which golf traditionally became popular. However during the early 1990s, participation in the sport had plateaued, and golf industry leaders argued that the game’s demographics had to come more in line with the changing demographics of the nation if golf were to continue to grow in popularity.

By the end of 1997, the PGA of America, the PGA Tour, the United States Golf Association, The Augusta National Golf Club, the Ladies Professional Golf Association, and Shell Oil company announced that they were partnering to create an initiative named 'The First Tee.' The First Tee was designed to foster public-private partnerships to build, operate, and manage golf learning facilities for minoritiesand inner-city youth. The group hoped to build 100 facilities by 2000. Former President George H.W. Bush and Earl Woods (Tiger’s father) served as spokespeople for the organization.

The First Tee was able to line up partners across the country. The organization’s staff provided starter grants, management and real estate advice and brought local interests into contact with key philanthropic and political actors. Course and learning center development often proved to be a slow process. For example, The First Tee supporters had been advocating for the construction of a golf learning facility in New York City since the founding of the organization. But it was not until 2002 that such facility was opened. Nevertheless, the organization was able to secure commitments to build 100 facilities by the end of 2000.

The year 2000 brought about a number of shifts for the organization. A new executive director, Joe Louis Barrow, Jr., worked to make the organization more sustainable for the long haul. He shifted the organization from overseeing the construction of facilities to disseminating a curriculum for youth life skill development and character education through golf. The national organization then chartered existing courses to become local affiliates to propagate this message and implement the program. The First Tee also sponsored programs to add golf to physical education curriculum at public and private schools.

By 2012, The First Tee had developed a strong chapter network, attracted support from foundations, governments and corporations, and claimed to have reached over 5 million young people. The majority of program participants were white, but in general the population served by The First Tee was more ethnically diverse than the general population of golfers (i.e. 18% of The First Tee participants were African-American compared to 6% of all golfers). In 2011, The First Tee announced a campaign to reach 10 million more young people by raising $100 million to expand its programs.

But some observers wondered if The First Tee’s youth development program was worth the amount of money that it was commanding. Were there better options for youth education than a golf program? Additionally, some golf industry participants worried that The First Tee was not fulfilling its promise to make golf more diverse and follow the changing demographics of the country. Should the golf industry find other vehicles to promote diversity and grow the sport? What was the place of The First Tee in the constellation of golf organizations?

Published Date: 09/12/2011

Suggested Citation: Andrea Nagy Smith, Nathaniel Hundt, Caitlin Sullivan, Jean Rosenthal, Jaan Elias,  Edward Snyder,  and William Goetzmann, "The First Tee," Yale SOM Case 11-039, December 9, 2011

Keywords: Golf, Women in Leadership