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Q&A with Keith Dawkins, CEO of The First Tee

April 25, 2018

During last year’s Presidents Cup at Liberty National Golf Course, just minutes from New York’s Central Park where The First Tee was launched some 20 years ago, Keith Dawkins was named the new Chief Executive Officer of The First Tee. The organization, a nonprofit youth sports organization whose mission is to grow the game of golf by transforming the experience that kids and families have with the sport, reaches 5 million kids annually. Dawkins, a 25-year veteran of media and entertainment and an expert in the kids and family space, has plans to modernize, reimagine and grow The First Tee into a bigger, more powerful global brand.

Dawkins shares his vision for the future of The First Tee through a Q&A:

Q.    Welcome to your new role as CEO of The First Tee. Prior to joining The First Tee, you were with Nickelodeon for 15 years. What excites you about this new opportunity and your new role? 

A.    The First Tee has a strong foundation on which to build. For 20 years, the organization has been changing the sport of golf and working to shape and impact the lives of kids.

There are 50 million kids under age 11. They represent the biggest and most diverse group that the nation has ever seen, which provides a unique opportunity for The First Tee moving forward. I’m excited to collaborate more with our Founding Partners - the PGA TOUR, LPGA, the Masters Tournament, PGA of America, and USGA - to continue to grow The First Tee brand, reach more kids and impact more lives, domestically and around the world.

Q.    The First Tee has an impressive reach - 5 million kids annually through programs offered in schools, at youth centers and on golf courses. What’s next for The First Tee, what is your vision?

A.    The First Tee will transform the experience that kids and families have with the game. To accomplish this, we need to grow and diversify the game, reaching and impacting more kids and their families.

Q.    We all want to grow the game of golf, what does that look like for The First Tee and how do you plan to get there?

A.    Ninety percent of our chapter alumni say they are lifelong golfers. To build on that success, The First Tee will focus on growing and diversifying the game of golf while positively impacting millions of kids along the way. We will do this through three strategic pillars:

1.     Fan Engagement:

We will create deeper connections with kids and families by becoming more modern and ever-present in their lives. This involves everything from digital/social media to content creation to activating at our biggest events. The first example of how we plan to accomplish this goal is the debut of The First Tee Experience at THE PLAYERS Championship from May 8-13.

2.     Diversity & Inclusion:

There are 50 million kids in the U.S. under the age of 11.  It’s the largest cohort of kids in our nation’s history (roughly 15% of the population).  It’s also the most diverse group of kids in our nations’ history with over half being kids of color. Connecting with today’s group of kids in ways that are fresh, current and reflect the world that they live in is “mission critical” to our success moving forward.

3.     Civic Responsibility - The First Tee Nine Core Values

The First Tee introduces kids to the game of golf and its inherent values - this is our point of distinction…our secret sauce.  Having a sense of civic responsibility - those Nine Core Values - matches up powerfully with what our research says is important to today’s kids.

Q.    Tell us about what The First Tee will be debuting at THE PLAYERS Championship next month?

A.    We are excited to be at THE PLAYERS Championship with the debut of The First Tee Experience.  We’ll be hosting fans at a new 5,000-square-foot, air-conditioned interactive golf experience for kids and families that is located in The McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation Kid Zone. The First Tee Experience will feature golf-themed games, social media and interactive activities for kids and kids-at-heart. Fans can show off their skills, practice their trick shots and participate in scaled versions of The First Tee’s signature programs currently offered in schools, at youth centers and at golf facilities around the country and the world. There will also be a one-of-a-kind, golf-inspired live interactive art installation by renowned artist Bryan Blue (Blue the Great) and a recharge lounge where adults can stay connected with a live feed of the tournament. We look forward to seeing many kids and families at The First Tee Experience.  

Q.    Just for fun, if you could play your dream round, who would be in your foursome?

A.    Se Ri Pak - She’s awesome. I liked her playing style, and that she wore her hat low! She impacted tens of thousands of young kids to play and she transformed the LPGA Tour.

Joe Louis - I’m a big boxing fan. He was the heavyweight champ of the world. I would have loved 18 holes to talk about his historic fights. He was also a tremendous golfer and faced the obstacle of not always being allowed access to the sport because of the color of his skin. I would have loved to talk about that with him as well. 

Gary Player - I’d just listen to the stories and the global perspective.

These three come to mind and all embody what The First Tee will look like in the future.

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