Teaching kids life lessons through golf

first tee San Antonio

Marlo Zamora didn’t come from a family of golfers. But after spending 10 years in a program that teaches kids both golf and life skills, the sport has been the catalyst for fulfilling her dream of studying cybersecurity at Trinity University in San Antonio.

Zamora is one example of how First Tee of Greater San Antonio is changing the lives of young people. First Tee San Antonio is the local chapter of a national youth development organization that empowers kids and teens through golf. First Tee integrates golf skills with a life skills curriculum to give young people the strength of character that empowers them through a lifetime of new challenges. 

Zamora was one of 24 high school seniors from around the country selected as a First Tee Scholar, an honor that includes a $20,000 scholarship, a free computer, a dedicated mentor for in-person and remote meetings throughout college, internship placements in summer and job placement upon graduation. She also won a $10,000 scholarship from one of First Tee’s sponsors for her first year of school.

She also won a spot on the Trinity’s golf team.

“Her mom said this has been a life-changing experience for her family,” said Carrie Kimbell, Executive Director of First Tee – Greater San Antonio.

First Tee was created in 1997 by the World Golf Foundation to provide young people of all ethnic and economic backgrounds an opportunity to develop values such as honesty, integrity and sportsmanship through the game of golf.

“We teach core values, life skills, character building, confidence and resiliency through the game of golf,” said Executive Director Carrie Kimbell. “We focus on the youth development piece and golf is the vehicle we use to deliver that.”

The San Antonio chapter began in 2000, serving youth ages 5 to 18. Based at a driving range near Brackenridge Park, the organization partners with area golf courses to serve children year-round throughout San Antonio and as far away as New Braunfels, Seguin and Uvalde. No child is turned away due to financial need and equipment is available for student use.

In addition to offering sessions throughout the year to introduce kids to the game and the life skills curriculum, First Tee has partnered with local schools to bring elementary students to the driving range on field trips and also to provide equipment and train PE teachers to integrate First Tee curriculum into public school PE classes.

“The goal of the program is to funnel kids into the life skills programming and get kids exposed to golf who normally wouldn’t be,” Kimbell said.

Kimbell spent several years in the golf industry, including caddying for her ex-husband, a former professional golfer. She transitioned into a career in business and technology but continued her involvement with golf, serving as a volunteer for First Tee. She was working for a start-up in Austin when the board chair of First Tee reached out to let her know that they were looking for a new executive director.

“The hair on my arms stood up,” she said. “I love golf, I love San Antonio, my family loves golf. What golf has done for me, I now have the opportunity to give that back to so many. It’s truly been a blessing and I’m so grateful that I get to do what I do. It’s not easy all the time, but it makes it easier knowing you are making a difference.”

Being new to nonprofit organizations, she discovered Catchafire, the skills-based virtual volunteer program offered through Social Venture Partners San Antonio. That led her to apply for the SVP Fellowship, which she completed this year.

“The thing I loved about the SVP fellowship was that it was more tactical toward what you’re doing every day,” she said. “With me being new to nonprofits, looking at the financials, HR, marketing, fundraising – the information was incredible. But beyond that, the conglomeration of other nonprofit leaders just sharing ideas with the tools we were given from SVP was truly invaluable.”