“Going Deeper” at Year-End 2023

Each story below shares about a specific student whose life was positively impacted by First Tee West Michigan’s ‘extra’ opportunities. Your gift at year-end helps us “Go Deeper” with kids and teens in 2024 and secures a $30,000 matching gift from Charles Schwab.

Andrew DeYoung | 25 years old | First Tee Alum – Ferris State University |  PGA Professional at Deal CC in New Jersey & Division 1 Head Golf Coach at Monmouth University

“Going Deeper” Initiative: First Tee Leadership Trips

Written December 26, 2023

Andrew participated in our chapter’s first and second national opportunities, applying to a nationwide panel of First Tee interviewees and being selected for trips to Naples, FL (First Tee Champions Challenge) and Washington D.C. (Perfect Sense Unified Challenge) to complete and learn together with students from other First Tee chapters around the country.  Hear how his trip to Washington D.C. made an impact on his life!

Andrew joined First Tee at age 13 in 2011, attending the organization’s inaugural open-to-the-public class. Displaying a natural talent for golf, Andrew, who learned the game from his late father, became a valued member of the First Tee family. His mother, Kathi, enrolled him at The Highlands Golf Course, marking the beginning of Andrew’s journey.

Andrew, age 13, in his early days at First Tee

While at Kenowa High School, Andrew played golf for four years and consistently advanced through First Tee’s program levels. Despite occasional challenges in staying focused and making decisions affecting his academics and golf, Andrew’s potential shone through.

Encouraged by First Tee Executive Director Tyler Smies, Andrew applied for a national opportunity to visit Washington D.C. Selected for the experience, he spent a week at Congressional Country Club, playing with PGA Tour Professional Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey and meeting Jordan Spieth. This transformative trip ignited a newfound focus for Andrew to mentor younger students.

Andrew with PGA Tour star Jordan Spieth in 2014 at the First Tee National Opportunity in Washington D.C.

“He came back different. It’s like a light bulb switched for him,” Executive Director Tyler Smies said. “After that trip to D.C., he was extremely focused on helping younger students and giving back. And he never looked back.”

Post-trip and upon high school graduation, Andrew pursued a degree in Professional Golf Management at Ferris State University.

Andrew passing his Playing Ability Test as a Freshman at Ferris State University, to become a PGA Professional

Graduating in 2021, he returned to Deal Golf and Country Club in New Jersey as an Assistant Golf Professional, after interning there while at Ferris. Now Andrew runs the club’s junior golf program, and his dedication there led to his hiring as Head Coach of Monmouth University’s Division 1 Golf program at the age of 25.

Andrew DeYoung, far right, Head Coach of D1 Monmouth University Golf Team this fall

“To see Andrew grow so much through First Tee – West Michigan, and then to have such an immense and immediate impact on kids and young men in his career – it’s tremendous. His journey went full circle – from being the teenager who needed someone in his life, to becoming that someone for other kids and young men,” Smies said. 

Since Andrew’s trip, more than twenty First Tee students have embarked on national opportunities, broadening their horizons through golf, leadership, and travel experiences.

To ensure future students benefit from life-changing opportunities like Andrew’s, your support is crucial. Please consider donating before midnight to help us reach our $30,000 matching gift opportunity!

Lindsay Reens | 23 years old | First Tee Alum | Kindergarten Teacher, Holy Trinity Catholic School

“Going Deeper” Initiative: Junior Coach Program

Lindsay was one of our first four junior coaches. Hear from her how junior coaching made an impact on her life! 

Lindsay reading to her kindergarten class this fall.

Lindsay began at First Tee at the age of 13 in 2013. From the outset, she was dedicated to improving and had aspirations of playing college golf. With Lindsay so dedicated to her game and First Tee, she got a multitude of opportunities to learn and grow through the program.

Lindsay, age 14, with LPGA star Paula Creamer in 2014

Lindsay applied and was selected to participate in Life Skills and Leadership Academy and the First Tee Champions Challenge, traveling free of charge to Philadelphia, PA and Naples, FL when she was 16 and 17 years old. She also got to caddie for a round with LPGA winner Megan Khang at the Meijer LPGA Classic upon graduating high school, and met Paula Creamer as she just started in First Tee.

Lindsay, age 18, preparing to caddie for LPGA winner Megan Khang

Lindsay, at age 16 alongside First Tee grad Robert Butler meeting Masters Champion Larry Mize on her all-expense paid trip to Naples, FL in the First Tee Champions Challenge.

Even with all these experiences playing and learning through golf herself, Lindsay knew she wanted to try her hand at coaching. So, in 2017, Lindsay started as one of our first four junior coaches – a paid position for teenagers in the program, built to develop leadership and organization habits. During that time, she fell in love with teaching kids. 

“The junior coach program helped me realize I wanted to be a teacher. Being on the course also allowed me to practice teaching and learn the qualities of being a great teacher and a mentor to the younger participants.”

What Lindsay helped start is now a fundamental development and leadership program of the chapter.  This summer, more than 25 teenagers who grew up in First Tee were junior coaches, assisting or leading 1-5 classes per week, depending on their availability and interest.  This year, more than $50,000 in payroll was paid out to current First Tee students or Alumni in the form of coaching or job training experience in fields like marketing, event planning, fundraising, and accounting. In addition, The Phil DeBoer Memorial Scholarship helped pay an additional $13,000 in college scholarships to nine First Tee – West Michigan grads this year alone. Lindsay was multiple-time winner of the scholarship, being awarded in 2020 and 2021. 

Upon high school graduation, Lindsay headed to Aquinas College, playing golf there but knowing that through her experience as a junior coach at First Tee, she wanted to become an educator. Each summer in college, Lindsay would return to work at First Tee, now leading the class with other adult mentors and younger junior coaches assisting her.  Each of the past three summers, Lindsay has led our LPGA*USGA Girls Golf classes at Kaufman GC, all while gaining experience and schooling in how to become a teacher.  

This fall, after graduating from Aquinas, Lindsay began as a kindergarten teacher for the first time at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Comstock Park. Her classroom was set up with one of her best friends from First Tee by her side, and many First Tee donors and volunteers pitching in for supplies. 

“The junior coach program has shaped me into the teacher I am today. I wouldn’t be the same without the experience I had coaching for First Tee.”

Now, you can help support our next generation of junior coaches. Graduates like Lindsay are Game Changers right here in West Michigan – your gift helps First Tee cultivate our next generation of leaders!

Elias Aouad | 26 years old | First Tee Alum | Bethany Christian Services

“Going Deeper” Initiative: Homework & Hitting

Written December 20, 2023

Elias was our very first participant in 2012 at Homework & Hitting, our winter tutoring and swing training program. Hear from Elias how Homework & Hitting made an impact on his game, his school, and now his career: 

First Tee alumni Elias Aoaud on the impact of Homework & Hitting

After one six-class session at First Tee in the fall of 2011 in Grand Rapids, Elias was hooked on golf. He wanted to play high school golf the following spring. So Executive Director Tyler Smies bought a hitting net and began working with Elias in the basement of the Elks Lodge at the Highlands, now part of Blandford Nature Center. The following spring, Elias made the high school golf team, and thanks to golf training and academic assistance Elias received, Homework & Hitting was born.

Elias at Homework & Hitting in 2013 at The Highlands Golf Course

More than 10 years later, Homework & Hitting is going strong in Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Holland, and Kalamazoo. More than 200 participants will receive tutoring and swing-training help at 20 area locations in West Michigan this winter. But it all started with Elias.  

Elias shared, “It’s hard to believe that it’s been 12 years since Homework & Hitting started. I remember when the idea of it was first brought up. To say I was excited was an understatement. The program allowed for year-round coaching and allowed me to learn about the game as well as keep up with my studies.

Help with schoolwork was especially important for me – having dedicated study time where I could focus on my school work and get help if I was stuck.

Keeping good grades meant I was able to continue playing for my high school team and with help from Homework & Hitting, it allowed me to do just that.”

Elias, with golf legend Jack Nicklaus in 2013

Now a Network Administrator for Bethany Christian Services, Elias was First Tee’s first graduate in 2015 and went on to get his bachelor’s at Davenport University. During his time at Davenport and years after, he’d come back to volunteer at Homework & Hitting. 

“I knew that once I was no longer a student with First Tee, I wanted to give back in some way. Shortly after my graduation, I asked about volunteering at Homework & Hitting.

“Coming back to First Tee as a volunteer after graduating and being able to help those who were in my shoes was beyond gratifying.

Helping students learn more about the game of golf, correcting swings, and teaching them that golf is a fun sport.

First Tee opened doors for me professionally, too. I was able to secure my first job in my career through the connections I made with other volunteers after I graduated.”

I have nothing but gratitude for First Tee as they helped shape me into the adult and golfer I am today.” – Elias Aouad, 2015 graduate

The Next Generation is here

Finally, Claudia is at the beginning of her journey, participating in Homework & Hitting for the first time this winter. On her first day of class, Claudia immediately grabbed a putter and told Coach Brian she wanted to become the best putter in the class. At just seven years old, Claudia is already outperforming the older boys in the class on the putting course. In addition to her Homework & Hitting sessions with Coach Brian, she’s also receiving lessons from the Director of Instruction and PGA Professional, Randy White. First Tee will be with her as she learns and grows through the game of golf. 

Your support at year-end helps the next generation of kids like Elias become better versions of themselves on and off the course. Give today and support deeper level impact like Homework & Hitting.

James | 14 years old | Southwest Middle School (Grand Rapids Public Schools)

“Going Deeper” Initiative: Play 9

Written December 11, 2023

James at this year’s Golf Marathon Fundraiser, where he completed 72 holes while raising money for students on scholarship at First Tee.

For a brief video explaining Play 9 from our Executive Director Tyler Smies, and how it’s benefitted James, watch below.  Just 1 in 250 kids end up playing golf if their parents don’t play, compared to 1 in 4 who play if one of their parents plays, according to the National Golf Foundation. Play 9 is First Tee’s solution.

James started participating in First Tee at the age of 7 in 2017 at Stormy Creek Golf Course. Now, at age 14, James is one of our strongest golfers in the program. James has benefitted from several ‘Going Deeper’ programs beyond First Tee’s traditional life skills and values programs while on scholarship at First Tee.

  1. James participating on First Tee – West Michigan’s PGA Junior League Teams (since 2019)
James from 2019 on his first PGA junior league team.

2. James participates at First Tee’s summer and fall leagues at Indian Trails GC in Grand Rapids.

James after winning 2021 Summer league at Indian Trails

3. James at our year-end tournament with college golfers at Kaufman GC in 2020.

James draining a 12-footer at year-end college alternate shot event at Kaufman in 2020

4. James participating in his first Golf Marathon Fundraiser in 2023 at Gracewil GC.

Question: What did you learn through your first golf Marathon Experience?
Answer, from James: “I learned that you have to be fast if you want a big number of holes!”

Discounted individual lessons with PGA Professional and First Tee Director of Instruction Randy White and Andre Pillow (now the Director of Instruction at Blythefield CC, pictured left). James is centered here.

Question: Do you view someone as a mentor at First Tee?

Answer, from James: “A mentor for me would probably be Coach Randy, he really helped with my game.”

James’ game has blossomed in the last two years, thanks to all these opportunities and taking full advantage of our Play 9 program, giving free access to playing nine-hole rounds with First Tee mentors at three different golf courses in Grand Rapids. 

This year at First Tee, James played 13 nine-hole rounds for free at Kent Country Club, Cascade Hills CC, and Indian Trails GC through the Play 9 program. He did these all by June 30, before his tournament schedule with program partner West Michigan Junior Tour began. James, quiet and reserved by nature, said of these playing opportunities, “They’ve helped me practice and make sure my swing is in sync.” 

The above courses all provided access for free or at a discounted rate in 2023 for First Tee – West Michigan’s Play 9 initiative.

James participated in the West Michigan Junior Tour and wrapped up his fourth effort with a 1st place finish at The Meadows GC, firing a dazzling 74 on July 27th, 2023.

While James led the way playing 13 nine-hole rounds for free this year, 250 rounds were played by First Tee scholarship participants, who receive First Tee six-class sessions free of charge because of their family’s income. For students to receive these 250 free rounds, more than $2,900 was spent on text messages to families and background-screened and SAFESPORT-trained mentors (72,500 texts sent).  More information on the rounds played is shown below in the graph.

First Tee is thrilled to be able to provide meaningful opportunities to play, and more importantly, build relationships with our participants.  As any golfer can tell you, two hours on the golf course can build a friendship or mentorship that can last a lifetime. 70% of our parents this year said their child/teen gained someone they view as a mentor. For students that have participated for 4+ years like James, 89% say they’ve gained someone they view as a mentor. We have seen our participants grow and develop through this initiative, but this initiative has real costs:

James has blossomed in his seven years at First Tee through the various additional programs we’ve offered.  Now, it’s your turn to help James and others finish strong.  He’ll be heading to Grand Rapids Public School’s Union High School next fall, which had only 3 boys participate in last year’s state regional, two of whom shot 130 or higher. Help support James and fellow First Tee participants by giving at year-end and helping us receive Charles Schwab’s $30,000 matching gift!  

Jayden | 14 years old | East Rockford Middle School

“Going Deeper” Initiative: Caddying & the Evans Scholarship

Written November 27, 2023

While more than 2,000 students participated in First Tee West Michigan’s core programs this year, Jayden has fully immersed himself in many ‘deeper’ programs including caddying, volunteer mentoring, and our golf marathon fundraiser.

Jayden started at First Tee at the age of 9, participating at Kaufman and Indian Trails his first two years. At age 10, Jayden began a relationship that has blossomed into a true friendship with Coach and staff member Chris Hashley.

Hashley, a self-admitted golf junkie, started coaching Jayden at First Tee’s 9-hole junior league at Indian Trails – a place for aspiring competitive golfers to have their first experience competing against other students their age and ability. That relationship blossomed over time, but came to full bloom at the start of this summer at the age of 13, when Jayden began caddying for Hashley and several other members at Blythefield Country Club.

Hashley, who last year took another First Tee caddie for his league night, was excited to get Jayden on his bag for as many caddie rounds as possible this summer. Through that relationship, Jayden impressed enough other members at Blythefield CC so much that he was able to secure more than 35 loops as a caddie, earning thousands of dollars while building impactful relationships with dozens of members at the club. Hashley has become a mentor for Jayden, attending middle school basketball games and tennis matches when not working with Jayden on the golf course.

Jayden’s other highlights as a caddie this year included caddying Tom Coomes to a victory of the Men’s Senior Championship (picture below) and caddying for a round with golf social-media star Patrick Koenig, who broke the world record for the number of 18-hole golf courses played in a calendar year.

Jayden with Senior Men's Champion Tom Coomes.

Jayden’s mom, Becca, has become First Tee’s biggest champion. “Thanks for creating a program that allows kids to really grow and develop as amazing human beings. Jayden is more excited about golf now than ever – he was just out walking 18 holes all by himself last week! He’s having so much fun – he’s planning to play this winter at First Tee – AND is bringing 2 friends with him!”

Giving Back

In addition to caddying, Jayden participated in First Tee’s six-class sessions and also began volunteering through First Tee’s junior mentor program. He volunteered as a mentor this spring with an age 7-9 class in Grand Rapids and had a blast. “The most fun thing for me was that I could see how much fun the kids were having. When I told the kids class was ending, one kid said ‘aaaaahhhh, I don’t want to leave!’

Jayden also participated in First Tee’s Golf Marathon Fundraiser this spring, raising $320 for our students on scholarship.

Caddying & the Evans Scholarship

More than a dozen First Tee – West Michigan students caddie at nearby golf courses, including Blythefield CC, Kent CC, Wuskowhan GC and also at Sankaty Head Golf Club in Nantucket Island. First Tee also started its own caddie program at the municipal golf course Indian Trails GC with 6 students. One of the main objectives: give more First Tee students a chance at a full-ride, room and board college scholarship through the Evans Foundation. Currently, four First Tee – West Michigan graduates have received the life-changing Evans scholarship, and are currently attending the University of Michigan or Michigan State free of charge. Four years from now, Jayden might be First Tee’s next student to receive the scholarship.

At year-end, First Tee – West Michigan needs your help to provide more deep-impact opportunities to students like Jayden.

  • 909 students received free programs this year at First Tee (up 101 kids from last year).
  • More donors than ever supported First Tee – but their average gift was smaller this year.
  • We need your help to help raise $158,000 between now and year-end.
  • An additional $30,000 matching gift is available, from Charles Schwab, if you help us reach our year-end goal. Can you support students like Jayden through a gift to First Tee? Thank you for your consideration!

Stay tuned for stories on the various additional program opportunities First Tee provides that shape our students’ and alumnis’ trajectories for decades to come.