EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ–At Tamarack Golf Course in East Brunswick,  The First Tee of Raritan Valley hosted its 11th year of building leadership, character, and sportsmanship - and developing golf skills, too - on its two championship greens.  The participation "spiked" this year as 153 students aged 7 to 19 were mentored in a program that encouraged the growth of both life skills and golf skills. 

"The First Tee, a youth development organization, impacts the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf. Supported by golf's major organizations, including the LPGA, Masters Tournament, PGA of America, PGA TOUR and USGA, The First Tee has reached more than 9 million young people since its inception in 1997 and reaches youth on golf courses, in schools and at other youth-serving locations." (wikipedia)

"With each new class, a student builds upon his or her golfing game, while instructors infuse one of First Tee’s nine core values and a life skill into the curriculum," said Michael Blackwell, the local chapter’s executive director. 

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The result: Students who set goals, develop interpersonal skills and are well-versed in conflict-resolution.

Once a participant exhibits a firm grasp of these concepts, as well as improvement on the course, through both a written, as well as a certification test, he or she is able to move up the program’s ranks.

Tamarack Golf Course, an operation overseen by the Middlesex County Improvement Authority, has been home to the local chapter for 11 years now.

The number of students participating has risen 5% since 2014.  “I’d say that it’s because of the coaching,” Blackwell said. “Our program is popular, because more people get involved when they learn it’s more than just golfing – it’s character development.”

The nominal fee may also appeal to many of the families involved.

At $10 per class or through scholarship funds, players are provided a handbook, clubs, a bag and in some cases, even shoes through The First Tee program.

“Whether you have the money or you don’t, you’ll fit right in,” Blackwell said.  “We have one of the best diversity levels in the country – that’s another life skill.  It’s more than golf; that’s the key.”

For many, who are taking notice, these novice golfers of today will grow into the stand-out citizens and players of tomorrow.

“These children and young adults are the future of this game,” said Middlesex County Freeholder Deputy Director Carol Bellante.  “It’s our hope that they will return to these greens, the same place where they made friends and fond memories, for many years to come.”

For more information on any one of the Middlesex County Improvement Authority's four golf courses, including Tamarack in East Brunswick, The Meadows at Middlesex in Plainsboro and Raritan Landing in Piscataway, log onto www.mciauth.com.