First Tee Greater Chicago Spotlight

35 E. Wacker Drive, Suite 300 – Chicago, IL 60601 – Tel. (847) 729-9833 –


First Tee Greater Chicago is a 501(c)3 charitable organization that serves thousands of youth by providing affordable access to junior golf. They currently reach 50,000 local youth on an annual basis through its on-course, in-school and after-school programming and its partnerships with other community-based, youth-serving organizations.


To impact the lives of young people in the greater Chicago area by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values, and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.

 — First Tee’s Nine Core Values —

Respect, Courtesy, Responsibility, Honesty, Sportsmanship, Confidence, Judgment, Perseverance, and Integrity



— First Tee’s Nine Healthy Habits —

Energy, Play, Safety, Vision, Community, Family, Friends, School, Mind



During their 2020 Corporate Challenge at North Shore Country Club on a beautiful September day, we had the opportunity to spend time talking to Lea Jesse, Executive Director, Jane Seder, Assistant Director of Development and Operations, and Erika Shavers, Assistant Program Director.  One consistent message from each was their passion for being involved with the game of golf and their recognition of the important life skills that can be taught through the game.

Though she has been Executive Director for just over a year, you could feel Lea’s desire to help instill the Nine Core Values and Nine Healthy Habits above. Like almost all organizations, First Tee Greater Chicago has been dramatically impacted by the COVID crisis, limiting the number or kids that are able to participate in the program.  Erika set up virtual programs for the months of April and May to keep kids engaged, and then the organization was able to get outside in June for some in-person programming.  Despite the best efforts, the program was only able to serve approximately 400 kids this year, instead of the normal range of 2000-2500 participants.

One of the particularly interesting elements of the program was how First Tee attempts to partner with other organizations to provide a diversity of experience.  One of Lea’s favorites was the partnership with Jackson Park Yacht Club.  The Yacht Club took First Tee students out on the water while First Tee provided golfing instruction for the Yacht Club participants. A terrific opportunity for all involved to experience the intricacies of each sport. Financially, the First Tee is fortunate to have strong support.  Sitting with Board Members during lunch we were able to hear their passion for helping and their recognition that 2020 was a year to step up the level of support.  The Taste of the First Tee fundraising event which typically draws 400 people had to be cancelled for 2020, though Lea was hopeful that it would return in 2021. The First Tee kicked off its Waveland Capital Campaign with a goal to raise $1.5 million to renovate and operate their own facility adjacent to the Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course along Chicago’s lakefront. Lamar Johnson Collaborative is helping transform a 100-yr-old building into a vibrant kid’s clubhouse that can host year-round programming. The outdoor practice area, designed in collaboration with Luke Donald, will provide kids with access to safe outdoor green space to play and learn. The Waveland facility will truly be a game-changer for the kids. Thanks to the First Tee Board, they have already raised $230,000 to support the project. The Corporate Challenge was a beautifully executed event as Jane made sure that all of the details were flawlessly executed. As someone who has put together 100s of golf events, I can tell you that the details of the event were well thought out and very organized.  The Corporate Challenge was fully sold-out with 33 foursomes who were able to enjoy a beautiful day before the Chicago weather turns cold and they were able to raise almost $300,000. Lea’s goal for 2021 is to expand the event to 36 holes at two different courses, bring everyone together for an evening reception.  We look forward to following their great work and learning more about how the organizations overcomes the challenges heading in to 2021.


Youth Golf Program- Check out their course Locations!

The First Tee golf program teaches youth age 7 through 18 the game of golf through a unique skills and leadership program. Participants progress through different levels of their program by demonstrating the First Tee “Nine Core Values”, life and golf skills as well as passing an assessment. In addition to skill work, their program focuses on goal setting, diversity appreciation and resolving conflicts. The youth golf program aims to inspire youth by introducing the game of golf and its inherent values.

The First Tee National School Program

A physical education curriculum created by First Tee which aims to help students tee up for the first time. Their unique curriculum gives gym teachers and physical educators the tools to get their golf program started. First Tee provides programs with the necessary training, lesson plans, and equipment.

First Tee DRIVE

Designed for youth-serving community organizations, First Tee DRIVE provides lesson plans and activity guides to help youth development professionals and volunteers introduce the sport of golf. Their program supplies the curriculum, equipment and the training for youth leaders to deliver the program. The First Tee DRIVE is designed to introduce participants the fundamentals of golf and the First Tee Nine Core Values.

The program includes:

-18 detailed activity plans

-Information section explaining teaching methods

-Safety and class management procedures

-Instructional cue cards

-Golf terms


First Tee Greater Chicago is a 501(c)3 charitable organization that is supported by contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations. These generous donations help positively impact the lives of young people in the Chicago area through the game of golf. Consider getting involved through one of the ways below.

If you are interested in getting more involved with First Tee Greater Chicago:

  • To learn more about volunteering with us, please visit their website or email Assistant Program Director, Erika Shavers
  • Join other young professionals in supporting and building awareness for First Tee through their Ambassadors Council. For more information, please visit their website or contact Jane Seder
  • To make a donation, click here.
Abbey DeRossi

Abbey DeRossi

Sports Philanthropy Network

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