Steve Charles—Barry Tyler’s The First Tee of Hammond golf program for inner city youth changes lives.

You see evidence of that even if you’re just visiting Lost Marsh Golf Course, the program’s home, for a few hours to take photos, as I did in late July.

There are newspaper and magazine articles about those changes up on the clubhouse walls.
There’s Brandon White, the program’s head golf instructor, who earned a college scholarship as a member of the program and now has returned to teach others.
There’s six-year-old Reese Wilson, who trains with the program and last year won "under-seven player of the year" honors at the Balmoral Woods Tour in Crete. 
But read more and you find out the program is even more about teaching life skills than golf technique—teaching kids how to introduce themselves, how to set goals, teaching self-discipline, how to accept responsibility, how to pick yourself up when you’re down.

And, in many ways, it’s also a primer on the Gentleman’s rule.

There’s also Barry himself, whose story we’ll tell in an upcoming issue of Wabash Magazine. Barry says the program gives kids who’d otherwise not step on a golf course the chance to play and learn from the game.
Barry should know—he was one of the program’s first students when he was still playing football at Hammond High in 1999 and working at Lost Marsh. The First Tee was one of those life lesson and confidence builders that helped him graduate from Wabash with a major in speech and political science, even after an injury led him to give up playing football his sophomore year.
It’s a program built on one-on-one relationships. I got to see that firsthand during my photo session, as Brandon listened to and counseled an elementary school-aged girl who was having a tough day. She left all smiles.
Lost Marsh Golf Course itself stands as a metaphor second chances and extraordinary vision. Built over ground that not long ago was a dumping place for slag from then nearby steel mills, Lost Marsh is a world-class 18-hole course and just opened a multi-million dollar clubhouse inspired architecturally by Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style, perched on top of what used to be called Bairstow Slag Mountain.

Lost Marsh is a place of transformation, but for all its growth and impressive new facilities, The First Tee is the most important thing happening there. 

Tyler was named the group’s executive director in Hammond late last year, and he’s grown the program from 50 to almost 500 kids in fewer than 12 months. More than 40 showed up in the two hours that I was there.

But The First Tee is a non-profit in a small office apart from that multi-million dollar clubhouse and is in need of funding. It nearly went broke before Tyler took the helm, and he’s seeking myriad ways to keep the program alive.

That’s where the Wabash community can help. And all you have to do is vote. First Tee is being considered for a Nike “Back Your Block” grant of  $2,500. The program with the most votes wins the grant, and First Tee is currently in second place.

You can read more about the program and its positive impact on kids’ lives (and cast your vote) here. I know that Barry would appreciate your considering it. I also met a bunch of kids who’d be cheering you on!

Click here for a photo album from my visit to Lost Marsh and First Tee.

In photo: Barry Tyler teaches a boy from the local YWCA how to hit the ball out of a sand trap.