First Tee – Greater Richmond was born from a national initiative launched in 1997 by the World Golf Foundation. Those who first dreamed of making golf widely available to young people dreamed big and envisioned First Tee Programs throughout the United States. Through these programs, young people would learn a sport that could be played throughout their lives while benefiting from the positive values inherent to golf.
Coverage in the Richmond Times-Dispatch of former President George H.W. Bush announcing the World Golf Foundation’s initiative caught the eye of Mrs. Roddy Tattersall, who knew that the concept would interest her husband. A few months after the introduction of the First Tee concept nationally, Fred Tattersall, a Richmond business and community leader and golfer, led the charge to establish a chapter in Richmond. The William Goodwin, Jr. and James and Robert Ukrop families joined the Tattersalls to become the lead founding benefactors of First Tee – Greater Richmond.
Before long, the number of supporters grew to over 200 people and the project received significant financial support from First Union Bank (now Wells Fargo Bank), Target Stores, Chesterfield County, and the City of Richmond. On February 26, 1998, the founders incorporated “Richmond First Tee” as a non-profit organization and laid the groundwork for the development of First Tee facilities in the greater Richmond area.
The efforts of those committed to seeing youth benefit from affordable and accessible golf facilities paid off, and in August 2000, First Tee – Greater Richmond opened its golf course in Chesterfield County, the Tattersall Youth Development Center, becoming the nation’s 20th programming location.
Just three years later, First Tee – Greater Richmond opened the 100th programming location in the country with its golf facility on the north side of the City of Richmond, the Elson Redmond Memorial Driving Range. Being able to locate a course in the heart of Richmond was a leap forward for the project as it meant that First Tee could more easily reach children who often had difficulty accessing programs located in the suburbs. Lester George, renowned golf course architect, gave his time to design the course in Chesterfield and the course in the City of Richmond as a gift to the chapter.
Furthering its mission, First Tee – Greater Richmond formed a partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University Athletics to make the Elson Redmond Memorial Driving Range the home of the VCU men’s golf program in 2010. Since making the facility its home, the Rams have captured four Atlantic-10 championships.
First Tee – Greater Richmond continued its programming reach when it adopted First Tee’s National School Program, a national initiative that introduces the game of golf and First Tee’s Life Skills Curriculum to elementary students during physical education classes. In 2010, the National School Program entered into 10 Chesterfield County Schools. One year later, 10 Richmond City Schools began delivering the program. First Tee – Greater Richmond now serves 41 local elementary schools with the hopes of expanding into all elementary schools in the Greater Richmond area.
The third piece of First Tee – Greater Richmond’s facility portfolio came into being on Jan. 1, 2020, when the organization assumed operational control of Belmont Golf Course from Henrico County as part of a 20-year lease awarded to First Tee – Greater Richmond. Through 2020, First Tee – Greater Richmond worked with Love Golf Design to renovate and reimagine the historic property that was laid out by A.W. Tillinghast in 1917.
On May 24, 2021, the greater Henrico County and Richmond communities celebrated the reopening of Belmont, which now consists of a restored 12-hole course (Belmont), 6-hole par-3 course (Little Bell) and 18-hole putting course (The Ringer). In Belmont’s first seven months of operation, the course saw over 24,000 rounds played, while over 400 area youth took part in First Tee camps, lessons and clinics at the course. Garnering both national and local acclaim, First Tee – Greater Richmond was bestowed the Virginia State Golf Association’s “Grow The Game” Award in Jan. 2022 for its efforts at Belmont.
In 2021, over 1,000 area youth were directed impacted as part of First Tee – Greater Richmond’s evidence-based youth lessons, camps and clinics across its three facilities. Additionally, First Tee – Greater Richmond expanded partnerships in Henrico County, including with the Henrico Police Athletic League, Henrico Education Foundation, and Henrico Recreation and Parks.
Outside of delivering programs onsite and in elementary schools, First Tee – Greater Richmond has many collaborative community partners, including The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Richmond and Communities in Schools. In 2022, First Tee – Greater Richmond expanded on those partnerships, moving into the RVA Kids First Collaborative building in Manchester alongside The Boys and Girls Club, Communities in Schools, and Higher Achievement.
Further evolution of the organization continued in 2022 when Patty Merrill became the first female chair of the organization’s Board of Directors. First Tee – Greater Richmond is in the process of building its second strategic plan, which will help guide the organization for the next several years.
Today, First Tee – Greater Richmond seeks to seamlessly integrate the game of golf with a life skills curriculum, creating active learning experiences that build inner strength, self-confidence, and resilience that kids can carry to everything they do. Participants ages 5 – 18 progress through the program over time, deepening their understanding of life skills and golf development. The integrated approach helps kids and teens build confidence and resilience for when they are on the course, at home and in school. Every participant has the opportunity to:
- Learn the game of golf and how it relates to life
- Focus on interpersonal and self-management skills on and off the golf course
- Set goals and put strategies in place to make them a reality
- Learn conflict resolution, resilience and how to plan for the future
Through our programs and facilities, we will continue to work to instill positive values, confidence and self-esteem in our region’s children and build game changers.