- October 29, 2015
Showing up for her first day as a student at The First Tee six years ago in Jacksonville, Amelia Kiewitt wasn’t excited.
The 19-year-old, now a Winter Garden resident, didn’t want to give the program a shot — she didn’t even like golf. Then upon arrival, she discovered she was a few years older than everyone else, which certainly didn’t help.
“First class I show up, I’m 13, and everybody else is like 7 and it’s like, ‘This is great — we’re using big plastic clubs,’” said Kiewitt, who relocated to West Orange a little more than a year ago. “But I stuck with it just because the coaches were so great. … They saw where I was feeling uncomfortable, because I was the oldest, and they kind of made me more of a volunteer. So I just stuck with it and started going through all the levels.”
What the teen discovered as she continued to go to lessons offered by the program was that, her lack of interest in golf aside, the lessons — or core values, as the program refers to them — were applicable beyond just the game.
And, for a teen who was struggling with self-confidence at the same time as there was turmoil and difficulties going on within her family life, the timing was perfect.
“It kind of gave me mentors in my life that I needed in that moment,” Kiewitt said. “Some of the coaches were more of life mentors, rather than just golf coaches.”
The program stresses perseverance, a trait that Kiewitt said paid big dividends through the years as she worked on repairing relationships within her family life.
“Especially with family issues, it’s just easy to want to give up and not try to work on things with your parents or with your siblings,” Kiewitt said.
Then, of course, there was the transformation from someone who lacked self-confidence into the confident young adult that, today, is an instructor within the program herself.
“For me, I never liked talking to grownups; I didn’t like talking in front of people — I got really nervous, and I was very shy,” Kiewitt recalled. “It really helped bring me out of my shell. … They made sure I shook hands, made eye contact, answered my questions confidently, and that’s something I carried through everything.”
The First Tee, which is holding registration for its programs around Central Florida and includes Stoneybrook West in Winter Garden, specializes in using golf to teach life lessons and also bringing golf to kids from areas, often low-income, where the game isn’t as popular. Kiewitt said one of the more rewarding parts about volunteering, and now working for, the program has been seeing kids who — like her — had little interest in golf start to take the classes with increasing enthusiasm.
“There were so many times where we would get kids who are just absolutely not interested at all,” Kiewitt said. “For me, it was just so cool to see the transformation through that. It doesn’t work out with everyone, but there have been kids I can think back to where you can see the transformation over the nine weeks.”
It’s hard to tell that this 19-year-old, who is in the process of relocating to DeLand, once didn’t like golf. Kiewitt works part-time for The First Tee, works at a pro shop at Orange County National in addition to going to school to be a dental assistant, and plays regularly. Through the program, she has gotten the opportunity to travel (to North Carolina and Arizona, among other places), work as a course reporter during professional events and even play a round of golf with Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow.
As for the actual game of golf, for those wondering, Kiewitt smiled confidently and said she can hold her own out on the links. She is planning on getting her PGA instruction certification and plans to continue being a part of the program that has meant so much to her in one capacity or another.
“I always want to be involved in First Tee,” Kiewitt said.
The First Tee is currently accepting registration for its nine-week clinics at Stoneybrook West Golf Club and MetroWest Golf Club, which will begin on April 6. The clinics serve a variety of levels and are open to kids ages 7 to 17. For more information, visit thefirstteecfl.org/register.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].