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First Tee building Northeast Wisconsin's next generation of golfers

Posted at 5:56 PM, Feb 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-18 18:56:50-05

DE PERE (NBC 26) — First Tee offers golf facilities, coaching and classes to Northeast Wisconsin's youth. One aspiring Division 1 prospect, Emma Cunningham, is an example of the organization's growth.

  • The organization said it has grown from serving 100 children to more than 1,000 each summer
  • Cunningham, a freshman at Green Bay Southwest High who competes for Preble High, has gone through the First Tee program from novice to coach
  • First Tee is participating in the 8th annual Give BIG Green Bay day of giving, which runs Feb. 21-22

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story)

We're at Mid Vallee Golf Course, where community support has helped the First Tee of Northeast Wisconsin build this indoor putting green — and much more.

Emma Cunningham started with First Tee when she was four years old.

"It made it fun, because golf is really hard to make it fun as a kid," Cunningham said.

Now she's 14, and has blossomed from novice to Division 1 prospect.

"I really want to get a scholarship to one of my dream colleges," Cunningham said.

Emma has had the same coach — Kelsey Frey — throughout her young career, and now she coaches other children at First Tee.

"The things I've learned from Kelsey for 11 years, I'm now taking and coaching them, which is so rewarding," Cunningham said. "It's so fun to see their smiles."

Frey says the program develops kids as both golfers and people.

"Our younger kids, we're working on respect, honesty, perseverance," Frey said. "With our older kids, we're digging a little deeper, so we're talking about goal-setting, how to manage emotions."

A former LPGA Futures pro herself, Frey says the facilities and programs at First Tee are first-class.

"When I was playing, we didn't have simulators at all these different locations, so it's so nice for the kids to come in and work on their game," Frey said. "We also have the indoor putting area. Things like that in Northeast Wisconsin are huge for these young kids."

Frey and executive director John Sabo say the organization has grown from serving 100 children to more than 1,000 each summer.

They hope Give BIG Green Bay helps them to expand the number of coaches and classes they can offer, and bring those classes to more golf courses across Northeast Wisconsin.

Sabo says golf is unique in the camaraderie it can build.

"You can be an elite athlete with it, or you can be a complete amateur, and you can play together, and have fun together," Sabo said. "Whereas, in other sports, if there's that discrepancy in talent, sometimes it's just not enjoyable."

Emma says the mental challenges of the game mean gratifying results.

"Golf is very solo, so when you win, it's like 'I did this,'" Cunningham said.

As a reminder, Give BIG Green Bay is Wednesday and Thursday, February 21 and 22, so you can help out First Tee and any of the other 49 non-profits involved.