Mia Moran, 15, of Freeport, plays golfs at Eisenhower Park...

Mia Moran, 15, of Freeport, plays golfs at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. She joined First Tee as a 10-year-old and now interns for the nonprofit. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Islip Town is teeing up a youth golf program through a partnership with First Tee, a nonprofit that blends golf with life skills. 

Through the program, youth learn to play golf for free and develop meaningful skills along the way, like character development, responsibility and determination, said Long Island program director Justin Draycott. The program is slated to begin outreach this fall and kick off in earnest in the spring at two of the town’s golf courses. It will be available year-round for children 7 to 18 years old.

First Tee already works with about 500 children in Nassau County. Bringing the program to Islip was first floated in April 2021, but it was delayed because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and limited access to courses, Draycott said. The collaboration with Islip is the nonprofit’s first town partnership on Long Island. 

“Golf has a lot of barriers that are scary for kids,” he said. “The population we’re looking to serve, most of the time their family knows nothing about golf. … Golf is the kind of sport where a lot of people learn from mom or dad or grandpa, so it’s passed down.”

Draycott also said the sport has an access problem: it’s expensive, exclusive and time-consuming. First Tee works to lower the barriers that prohibit youth — especially vulnerable children or those from economically challenged households — from hitting the greens. 

A bus donation from Suffolk Transportation Service will enable First Tee to use the vehicle as a mobile headquarters to reach youth in Islip’s hamlets, Draycott added. 

Mia Moran, 15, of Freeport, was no Tiger Woods when she joined First Tee as a 10-year-old. Her mother works at a country club on Long Island, so Moran was exposed to the sport, but hadn’t played. Now she’s on her school’s golf team, interns at First Tee and helps younger players, and caddies in pursuit of a college scholarship.

“I just thought it was for these middle-aged people on the golf course doing their business things,” she said. “One of the reasons I love golf is because I think it’s a sport for everyone. People from the ages of 3 to 90 can play.” 

The sport has changed her life, Moran said. Sometimes, she reflects on her old score cards to track her progress, which boosts her confidence. The networking opportunities provided by the nonprofit have expanded the list of careers she’s considering pursuing when she’s older, such as banking or business. 

“Confidence, being kind, respect for others; these little things that they’ve [my mentors] given me have helped me throughout my life,” she said. “Even when I’m not playing golf or doing things golf-related.”

Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter — a golfer herself, “but not a good one,” she joked — touted the empowerment children feel playing the sport, which requires patience and perseverance. The partnership will give youth “an opportunity to develop and be all that they can be,” she said. 

“It’s all about mentorship,” Carpenter said. “They’re using golf as a vehicle for those other life skills that these kids can take with them.”

HITTING THE GREENS

First Tee will operate at the Brentwood Country Club and the Holbrook Country Club. Anyone ages 7 to 18 can join the year-round program, but first consideration will be given to those with an economic need, who can join for free. For more information, visit ​​firstteemetny.org.

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