FORT SMITH (KFSM) — What was once named the “Best Program in the World,” The First Tee of Fort Smith, will close on December 1, 2018.
Philip Merry, one of First Tee’s founders, says the reason for their doors closing is because they don’t have the money to keep the program going as of right now. He says they are looking for any donations to help them get back on their feet while they figure out a plan for the organization, and says he believes the city of Fort Smith won’t let the program end for good.
“These kids don’t deserve to lose that,” Merry told 5NEWS.
The First Tee is an international youth development organization that teaches the game of golf, and values to young people.
Merry said to keep the program running, they must stop spending the majority of their money on equipment, pesticides, and landscaping for the golf course, and instead, funds need to be spent on the kids.
“We’ve got to find a new sustainable model where the money we raise goes for the children and the programming and the counselors.”
Merry said the goal of the program is also to teach life skills.
“Character, less crime, inclusion, affordability, access, and a lifelong coach to help them tuck their shirt in and shake your hand firm, look you in the eye, tell the truth, think before you shoot your mouth off, and on a rainy day they teach you how to do a checkbook.”
Evan Griffth of Greenwood has belonged to First Tee since he was a young boy. He says he’s been fortunate enough to play in golf tournaments all across the country because of the organization.
“It’s something that if it goes away, it will be detrimental to this area and the golf community.”
Griffth says First Tee not only taught him how to play the game of golf.
“It taught me how to become a gentleman in life. The nine core values, which is part of their curriculum, is giving you the honesty, integrity, and judgment to your life, and gives you the leadership skill that you need in life.”
Griffith told 5NEWS he hopes First Tee will figure out a way to stay open because it’s not only shaped him but others as well.
“They are also teaching kids who don’t really have a home to go to at all. So, it’s kind of a cool and neat facility that can bring everyone out together.”
If you would like to donate to The First Tee of Fort Smith click here.
The First Tee of Northwest Arkansas in Lowell will remain open despite the Fort Smith program closing.