Three Reasons to Give to First Tee this Season!

Reason #3: Bradley Lardie accomplishes wire-to-wire finish at First Tee – West Michigan

This season, your donation to First Tee goes further, thanks to a generous matching grant from Charles Schwab. Please give before year-end to ensure First Tee – West Michigan can fully take advantage of this $32,500 match! Help us raise $60,000 this December!

When First Tee – West Michigan launched in the fall of 2011, there was just one coach (Tyler Smies), one course (The Highlands GC in northwest Grand Rapids), and a handful of volunteers. As the spring of 2012 rolled around, First Tee – West Michigan’s first full year of programming began. And it began with Bradley Lardie, age 7, and his older brother Caleb, age 9 in class.

From the first class, Bradley Lardie stood out amongst the participants. He was the youngest in the bunch – just barely old enough to participate. His mind worked differently than most seven-year-olds.

“The questions Bradley would ask,” Executive Director and coach Tyler Smies said. “They were so advanced, mechanical, and math driven. Things like “So the angle of the clubface changes distance?” or other specific questions like that. Most 7-year-olds just want to swing hard and have fun and play games, and truly don’t have a care in the world for mechanics or how the golf swing works. But not Bradley.”

“I just remember being the youngest in class, and really enjoying the ‘games approach’ to First Tee,” Bradley said, now looking back through coaching viewpoint. “I also remember Homework & Hitting, and how much fun and how much I learned just hanging out at First Tee throughout the winter.”

Bradley’s curiosity and perspective were different than many of his peers. He was also always focused on the task at hand. He zeroed in on learning all he could to get better, despite rarely being the best golfer in the class. He was and is a sponge for learning the intricacies of the game. Because of his focus and interest, he was invited to the 2nd ever Collegiate Alternate Shot event, where he was paired with another Brad (Smith), who played at Calvin College. 8 years later, he participated in his last one, next to GVSU’s Men’s player Charlie DeLong. The pictures below are of each event.

Bradley and his brother Caleb participated on scholarship side-by-side for four years before Bradley struck out on his own. As Bradley grew, and First Tee expanded, Bradley was able to consistently attend class with Coach and Executive Director Tyler Smies, participating in class at 5 different golf courses in Grand Rapids.

Bradley also was one of First Tee’s first junior coaches, working for First Tee and earning a paycheck at the age of 14, assisting lead coaches and learning the coaching side of First Tee’s work. Even before then, Bradley coached in the Griffins Youth Foundation, also becoming a coach for a blind hockey player all while he helped hundreds of students at First Tee.

“One morning, my mom woke me up and told me I was going to start helping and coaching with the Griffins Youth Foundation. I’m glad she did, because I found out really quickly that I really love coaching and working with kids. It’s fun to watch a kid have that ‘ah-ha’ moment and craft a lesson plan to make those moments happen.”

It quickly became clear that Bradley was more capable than most teenagers in leading class. By the age of 16, Bradley was leading class with twenty students and five adults at area courses like Cedar Chase, Indian Trails GC, Kaufman, Maple Hill, and the Mines GC, and Kaufman GC. The past two summers, Bradley has also worked administratively in the office. This summer, he focused specifically on personally connecting with other scholarship families, sharing what opportunities were coming up for their student, and answering questions. As a participant, he was well-informed and could speak to the value of First Tee in his life to other parents. This cold calling would scare off most teenagers, but Bradley dove in and excelled.

“It gave me such an appreciation for what I had growing up in First Tee,” said Lardie. “I called so many parents who were grateful I called to share about upcoming opportunities at First Tee. But also I gained new perspective on the challenges some of our First Tee families have. I have a different level of compassion than I had before because of that work. I used to think everyone thinks or has a similar situation to what I have. Now I have an ear for what others think and are feeling.”

Working on staff began to color Bradley’s thoughts on a future career.

“One of my teachers in high school heard about all the coaching I was doing, and asked if I wanted to help in a tutoring program at school, working with elementary school kids. And that experience, plus my coaching with First Tee and The Griffins Youth Foundation convinced that teaching is what I want to do as a career.”

As Bradley began to enter his final few years at First Tee, Program Director Taylour Boer and Tyler Smies were adamant that he get a National First Tee Opportunity. Bradley attended a leadership academy at age 14 put on by First Tee – Benton Harbor that was influential, but nothing since, as Bradley’s golf handicap was not low enough to apply. So Bradley was selected and went last winter to Naples, FL, along with another 10-year program veteran and Ace participant Adam Koval. They had a blast playing against students from across the country, and learning alongside Program Director Taylour Boer that trip. Bradley has also thrived also playing on the JV and Varsity golf team at Jenison. New initiatives in the past two years at First Tee and our year-end fundraising for new technology have been created for students like Bradley, so their golf game can improve at a more rapid pace. Bradley knows that would have made an impact on him.

“In my trip to Florida, my eyes were opened to how many good players there are,” Lardie said. “I thought I was really good, but now I know there’s whole different level of play, and I want to get there. Having a launch monitor and putting technology back when I was 10 or 11 years old, or access to someone like A PGA Professional like Coach Randy would have made a huge difference for me as a golfer.”

10 years after beginning at First Tee, Bradley is the first ever in First Tee-West Michigan’s history to complete the Ace Level. Bradley worked through the PLAYer, Par, Birdie, and Eagle levels before beginning his Ace level journey in the spring of 2022. Ace serves as a Capstone project at First Tee, and functions much like an independent study. Bradley submitted his Ace Level Projects for review (they are currently in Florida being considered). These projects focused on different areas of growth: golf, career, giving back, and exploring educational opportunities. While nine other students have started Ace, Bradley is the first to complete the level.

“Honestly, the feeling of finishing the Eagle level at First Tee was overwhelming for me. I’ll always remember that moment. I was spinning my tires at the Birdie level, and almost gave up. But I kept at it, so finishing that made me really want to finish Ace and be the first at our chapter to do it.” Lardie said. “I had some competition with another participant, Kylie, who was also trying to complete it, and we were staying up late some nights each trying to complete it first. Her catching up to me really pushed me to finish, and that’s what I needed to do this.”

As 2022 wraps up, please consider giving so more students like Bradley can participate at First Tee on scholarship. With your help, more students can participate on a scholarship rate, while also getting first-class instruction, and access to game-changing technology.