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Jul 1, 2022

The Top Shots at First Tee

Barry Kaufman

Photography By

Two Lights, One Stand Photography
Meet the men behind the life skills and expert instruction that are changing children’s lives at First Tee — The Lowcountry.

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It could be that you think First Tee — The Lowcountry simply teaches golf. If that’s the case, you’re not wrong. But you’re also missing the big picture.

If you ask Program Director Aaron Immel, he’ll tell you. “We’re teaching life skills as a way to teach golf, not using golf as a way to teach life skills.”

The difference lies in the approach that First Tee has used for decades: instilling in children the nine core values of the organization, honesty, integrity, responsibility, respect, courtesy, sportsmanship, judgment, perseverance, and confidence. And yes, along the way toward being better people, they’ll probably find that they’re shaving a few points off their short game.

The local chapter of an organization founded in 1997, First Tee — The Lowcountry officially opened the doors of its Gumtree Road facility in 2017, giving local kids a place to learn about life while enjoying a 6-hole par-3 course and multiple areas to practice driving, chipping and putting. And helping guide this organization forward are the men you see here, Executive Director Pat Zuk and Program Director Aaron Immel.

While Zuk’s start with First Tee came as a moment of serendipity, it ignited a 25-year career with the organization. As assistant director of instruction at Kansas City’s Heart of America Golf Academy, he was tasked with steering the First Tee pilot program there.

“When you’re the younger assistant pro, at most places, you end up doing the junior programs. And when I was doing those, I felt like there should be more to it than hitting balls and learning the rules,” he said. “You’re going to spend that much time with them over the summer, there needs to be more. First Tee was the obvious answer.”

This began a long career with the organization, bringing him to First Tee — The Lowcountry in February of 2019. At the stunning new facility, he sees an opportunity to build on programming that has defined his tenure with First Tee.

“I think most people will say that golf builds character. I think that’s not necessarily true unless you’re very intentional about it. And that’s what we do,” he said.” I feel like I don’t have to get up and go to work, I get to get up and go to work. I’ve probably gotten more from the kids than I’ve ever given them. I’ve been so lucky; it’s been a real passion.”

Like Zuk, Immel discovered The First Tee while working in golf and identified right away with its balance of golf and life skills. However, golf was not necessarily the beginning for him. As a Greensboro kid who worked with the Greensboro Grasshoppers baseball team in high school, and a graduate of Catawba University with a degree in sports management, he found First Tee while still charting his athletic future.

“I always knew I wanted to work in sports, and through college I was trying to figure out what sport it would be,” he said. “I started working with First Tee in Greensboro, interned with them and soon realized I could start pursuing golf.”

He was hooked, both on the game and on the unique approach The First Tee takes to building a better future for its students.

“I’m really committed to not only improving the golf game in children but improving their character,” he said. “I love to build character with these kids.”

To find out more about summer programs and upcoming tournaments, visit firstteelowcountry.org.

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