“Everyone thinks golf is expensive, out of their range, or more of a higher-class [sport]—that’s what really keeps people away,” said Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA) professional Jason Montoya, who works toward breaking down golf stereotypes for Native youth.
On the morning of Sunday, August 16, approximately 28 golfers of all ages lined Talking Stick Golf Course in anticipation of a free golf camp. The First Tee Program at Talking Stick hosted the camp and brought in two certified golfing professionals, both Native American, to teach the all-Native campers life and golf skills.
The First Tee Program initiative started in 1997 and was adopted within the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in March of this year. The initiative began as a way to bring golf to youth who would not otherwise be able to experience the game. SRPMIC is the second tribe in the country to host the First Tee Program on Native American land.
Campers were able to work one-on-one with PGA professionals Jason Montoya (Santa Ana Pueblo), PGA Certified; and Jessica Dailleboust (Navajo/Comanche/ Ottawa/Mohawk), LPGA certified. Both camp instructors have impressive résumés and both have experience with the Notah Begay III Foundation.
“The First Tee Program is in its first year here at Talking Stick. We started at the end of March, and so far we have 35 kids in the program. We have a total of five Native Americans and two SRPMIC members. Hopefully we can increase that,” said Montoya.
Once a month, the First Tee of Talking Stick hosts a camp for Community members. This time around it was open to all Native Americans. “I just thought I’d open it up to staff and to overall Native Americans [in hopes they would pick] up the game of golf,” said Montoya.
Campers were given basic instructions for “golfing 101.” They were taught that there’s more to golf than hitting a ball—golf also entails exercise, nutrition, discipline, correct form, finding the correct golf club, patience and more. Each camper was given individualized instruction. Children also had an obstacle course and smaller golf clubs to help them on their journey to possibly becoming a professional Native American golfer.
When asked what he learned, camp participant Grant Smith, 10, said, “I actually learned about the score; how you’re not trying to get a high score, like other sports where you’re trying to get the highest score available. But here, you’re trying to get the lowest score. I had fun.”
“We had lots of fun,” said camp participant Antonio Garcia, who mentioned golfing for fun at home. “We have golf clubs at home and we pretended to golf I guess, but we weren’t doing it right this whole time. It was nothing like we learned here. Now we can go home and go to our local park and put what we learned to use.”
“With the large family that we have, we were able to bring our kids with us and there were no restrictions on that, which is what I really liked. As parents, we’re busy, and coming to a family event like this is fun for the family. I really enjoyed the exercise portion; it was very hands-on. I would recommend this to everyone,” said camp participant Rochelle Garcia.
“This is one of my biggest turnouts for the event. I hope the kids are interested in taking on the First Tee Program, or [I would be happy to] even just have the adults come out and play the golf course,” said Montoya.
When asked how golf and the golf camps can benefit Native communities, Dailleboust said, “It’s golf, but it’s also a lot of values. A lot of what I learned about socialization I learned from growing up golfing. It teaches you etiquette; it teaches you how to communicate effectively with other people; and it keeps you honest, because you have to keep your own score and you have to keep track with other people. It does so much more than just [teach] golf. It’s a great venue for teaching so many other aspects that kids need growing up. It’s also good for adults; it gets you to socialize, and a big thing is also fitness. It promotes a healthy lifestyle.”
“My overall goal is to give back to the Community,” said Montoya. “My passion is teaching the kids, getting them out there; that’s where I started. I got addicted to the game and it helped me through my personal life, through school, and just made me become that better person. Hopefully one of these kids can take up golf on the business side or take it up as a sport and play through high school and college.”
The program also plans to start a “tiny tees” program open to children ages 4 and 5. “We also want to get the little ones involved,” said Montoya. This will start at the end of September, twice a month. A fee of $5 will be collected during each visit.
For more information about the First Tee of Talking Stick, contact Jason Montoya, PGA, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (480) 850-8611.