East Lake First Tee: PGA Professional's unique story leading the Atlanta youth golf program

Atlanta First Tee Program
The First Tee
Atlanta-based PGA Professional Jeff Dunovant is playing a major role in helping youths through the First Tee program.
By T.J. Auclair
Connect with T.J.

Series: PGA

Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 | 11:40 a.m.

The finale of the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedExCup -- the Tour Championship -- takes place this week in Atlanta at East Lake Golf Club, where the winner of the season-long series will walk away with a $10 million prize.

A $10 million prize is a life-changing experience, no doubt.

But at East Lake, there's another life-changing experience going on that won't yield a $10 million prize, but one that will set the foundation for teaching invaluable life skills.

It's The First Tee, a program for positive youth development through the game of golf, which is a part of the East Lake Foundation.

The East Lake Foundation mission is to help families build better lives and to help children reach their highest potential through its holistic approach to community revitalization incorporating mixed-income housing, cradle-to-college education and community wellness.

Learn more about The First Tee East Lake
 Register a child or teen for The First Tee program
 What is the East Lake Foundation?
 Visit PGA.com's East Lake Golf Club course page
 Visit Jeff Dunovant's PGA.com profile page

Jeff Dunovant has been the Director of Instruction for The First Tee of East Lake since 2004. Dunovant’s late father, Harold Dunovant, was a pioneer in the game of golf. The Dunovants have the distinguished honor of being the only African-American father and son PGA of America Members in the history of golf. We caught up with Jeff Dunovant to learn more about The First Tee program.

PGA.com: Jeff, you've been a PGA Professional since 1993. And since 2004, you've been the Director of Instruction for The First Tee of East Lake. Can you tell us a little about how much The First Tee has grown since its inception in 1997?

Dunovant: It has changed dramatically; the Life Skills curriculum was so solid in the beginning. Over the years, the curriculum has been improved, as has the training program for the coaches. Now, coaches are required to know the material in such detail. This only helps to positively impact more children.

PGA.com: The First Tee is uplifting in so many ways. Refreshingly, it's the opposite of what your father had to endure for so long -- instead of turning people away from the game, The First Tee is inviting those who might not otherwise have the means to learn about and enjoy golf. How important is The First Tee? Let's face it, it's not only teaching children the game, but also great values and life lessons.

The First Tee is very important. Based on the children I know we have been able to impact and who have had life-changing experiences here at The First Tee of East Lake, I am sure there are just as many other success stories, if not more, within other chapters. The golf and life skills taught here are important, but I believe that a lot of the participants just needed an adult in their life that showed they cared. Someone to say “good job,” give them a high five, and even a positive smile. It makes a huge difference.

PGA.com: I'm sure we have parents and even children out there reading this who are interested in learning more about how to become involved with The First Tee. Can you tell them where to go and how to go about getting started?

The best place to go is The First Tee’s website: www.thefirsttee.org. Just click on the state you live in and it will give you all of the information you need to get you child started.

PGA.com: What has been the most rewarding moment or highlight for you in your involvement with The First Tee?

Definitely in 2006, when one of the first groups of children who were full-time participants in The First Tee of East Lake graduated high school and they all went off to college to play golf. They were the first people in their families to go off to college. That showed all the other participants they could see someone just like them and know that they have the same opportunity.

PGA.com: Take us through a day in your life as the Director of Instruction for The First Tee of East Lake.

I start my day with the students at Drew Charter School, who take golf as a Physical Education course. So I have five classes a day with them and then afterschool programs as well. We also have our Saturday programming, which is six classes on Saturday beginning at 8 a.m. I’m responsible for putting together the lesson plans for the program for each day.

PGA.com: We've all heard the remarkable story of the revitalization of East Lake and the surrounding community thanks largely to Tom Cousins, who bought the course in the 1990s and has worked to revitalize the area. From the perspective of someone who has seen the transformation of East Lake and the surrounding area first hand, can you tell us what this rebirth, so to speak, has been like?

In the time that I have been here I have seen so many changes for the better. The children at Charles R. Drew Charter School are enjoying the better learning environment. They have a passion for learning more and more information. The community itself is more of a family, people are willing to help each other and get to know each other. I actually live in the community myself, and it is a great place to raise a family.

Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.


T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.