OUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — D’Shawn Johnson wants to teach golf to Louisville’s youth. He also wants to use the sport to teach life skills to young people all over the metro area as the executive director of the First Tee Louisville youth golf program.
Honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment are the program’s nine core values, and Johnson hopes to not only instill those values but also challenge some people’s perceptions of the game so they can reap its benefits.
“Golf is a reflection of life,” Johnson said. “You’ve got your fairways, roughs, and challenges.” It makes you think about what you’re doing. We collaborate with other youth service providers and community centers, and we’re working to break down stereotypes. That is sometimes what keeps us from doing things that will help us. We use golf as a platform for an education-based program.”
Johnson admits that overcoming his barriers to the game required taking the first step, but there were other factors that prompted him to visit the driving range. Johnson previously served as a Louisville police officer for 17 years before being forced to retire due to a gunshot wound to his arm.
Johnson’s surgeon suggested that he add golf to his therapy regimen during his recovery. Johnson wasn’t immediately enthralled by the concept.
“Grown men chasing a little white ball around, it’s stupid,” Johnson said, but he eventually got over it and accepted an invitation to the driving range from his surgeon six months after the shooting. “It was a humbling day for me on that day.” I was learning at the age of thirty-something that there are some things I can’t do. I was motivated to learn the game at that point, so I practiced and improved.”
The Louisville Urban League, which had a presence at the Shawnee Golf Course, then hired Johnson. He saw an opportunity to use his newfound love for golf to fill a void in the community, and he jumped at the chance.
“As a cop, I used to wonder if there was someone in their lives who could give them some counsel, whether they wouldn’t be in the backseat of my car,” Johnson said. “At this point, I’ve realized that person is me.” For me, it took on a whole new meaning.”
In 2005, Johnson and the Urban League launched the first First Tee program at Shawnee Golf Course, combining three different children initiatives under one umbrella.
They began out with 40 to 50 kids per week and have since grown to six golf facilities in the metro region, serving over 1,000 kids over their three seasonal programs in the spring, summer, and fall.
“Because golf is an individual sport, it teaches a lot of life skills in its own way,” said Blake Hardesty, the program director for First Tee Louisville. “It comes with a lot of difficulties.” Golf is a fantastic segue to a lot of the life skills that we teach because of that (plus) being outside and getting the chance to learn in diverse surroundings.”
However, Johnson emphasizes that the First Tee program includes team-building activities.
“We construct group activities,” he explained, citing the pairing of two young golfers to play tic-tac-toe with their putters as an example. “To them, it’s a game, and they begin to enjoy themselves.” Distance and control are the two golf skills I’m teaching them. Teamwork, on the other hand, is a life skill I’m teaching them.
“Now these two guys must collaborate and strategize in order to solve an issue.” They must devise a strategy for dealing with this situation. I’m teaching them while they’re having a good time.”
Johnson is ecstatic about the new sense of purpose golf has given him and the First Tee coaches as they utilize the game to empower young people all throughout the city. He’s always looking to introduce new kids to the game and grow it, and he encourages others to not allow their prejudices keep them from participating in something that could benefit their child for the rest of their lives.
“We’re getting them ready for the real world,” Johnson remarked. “Golf is nothing more than a tool.” “It’s the life skills that keep them going.”