Honesty, integrity: What The First Tee’s core values are all about

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Mike Gildea
Special To The Beacon
Flashback to April 19, 2010: a two-man playoff for the Heritage Golf Classic in Hilton Head S.C. A head-to-head, sudden-death matchup between Brian Davis, a young British star looking for his first PGA win, and Jim Furyk, seasoned veteran with multiple victories.
Davis’ approach shot to the 18th green goes awry, left into the marsh by the green. But it’s playable out of the wet sand in the hazard. In goes Davis, but on his takeaway he brushes a blade of grass. He sees it but nobody else does and calls a two-stroke penalty on himself, losing him the tournament, a two-year exemption on the Tour and more $400,000 because he finished second.
It was surely a heartbreak loss for Brian Davis, who to this day is still winless on the PGA tour. But when he called that penalty on himself, he earned the admiration of the golf world for his integrity and honesty. You see, Davis’ error—a seemingly petty occurrence—was a violation of rule 13.4, against moving a loose impediment in the hazard during his takeaway. It was indiscernible to anyone but him. But he called it as he saw it.
At The First Tee, we teach our students attributes like honesty and integrity as part of our nine core values. Those values are at the heart of our life skills and character development curriculum. They are what The First Tee is all about and the game of golf uniquely lends itself to teaching those values so that our kids can take them to heart and become better people.
At the earliest levels of our programs, our kids begin to understand that playing strictly by the rules is an integral and essential part of the game. Out on the links and in most amateur events, we point out that there aren’t any refs, umpires or officials to call penalties. No whistles or striped shirts. How the game is played, whether the rules are obeyed and protocols are followed, is up to the player. And that’s what makes golf incomparable in the entire sports world.
As a volunteer coach, to me honesty and integrity are the twin pillars of character development—they define who you are and build for you a foundation of trust. They are among the most essential personal values that one can cultivate; they are what character and reputation are all about.
For Brian Davis, at that moment of truth in 2010, it wasn’t about the money or the win or the prestige. It was about him and how the game should be played. And at The First Tee, we’re working to assure that our kids emulate and respect professionals like Brian Davis and learn lifetime values that will serve them well as they become the citizens and leaders of tomorrow.
Summer tour results, July 16 at The Lakes. Girls: Cameryn Smith, 88; Janzen Jones, 101; High school boys: Holt Durham, 79; Chris Clendenin, 82; River Corbett, 91. Middle school boys: Tucker Vaughn, 43; Nick Caison, 48; Austin Aycock, 54.