"It gives me great joy to see a young person who didn’t think they would finish high school actually graduate from college because of the impact of The First Tee."
Since becoming CEO in 2000, Joe Louis Barrow, Jr. has provided strategic direction and executive oversight to The First Tee. This nonprofit youth development organization uses golf as a tool to teach young people the positive values inherent in the game such as honesty, perseverance and sportsmanship.
As a result of his leadership and advocacy of quality character education, The First Tee has reached more than 9 million young people in all 50 states and select international locations since its inception.
Prior to The First Tee, Barrow served as President and COO of IZZO Systems, Inc. and as Director of Special Projects and Senior Advisor to Ronald H. Brown, Chairman, Democratic National Committee. Barrow began his career with the United Bank of Denver, before moving to Washington D.C., as one of 40 business executives selected nationally to participate in the Presidential Executive Exchange Program.
In addition to serving on a variety of local and national boards, Barrow completed a biography on his father entitled, “Joe Louis: 50 Years an American Hero,” published by McGraw-Hill Publishing. In 2011, he was inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame, joining his father, on the 25th anniversary of the same recognition.
1. How long have you been a fan of the game of golf? I was first introduced to the game of golf when I was five or six years old. So, I've been a fan of the game and what it entails for more than 60 years now.
2. Who or what has most impacted your commitment to the game of golf? I was introduced to the game of golf through my father and stepfather, but would also see three of our neighbors leave together every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, to play golf. I couldn’t understand why they went as they did to play. But, when I was about five or six years old, and finally went to a golf course for the first time, I realized it provided a sense of solitude and camaraderie; it was their way to get away. So, these men influenced my direction toward golf the most.
3. What is the core mission of The First Tee? The mission of The First Tee is to provide educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf. Additionally, it’s to take the inherent values of the game of golf and instill those values in young people so that they understand that confidence, honesty, perseverance, and respect, are a way of life.
4. What is your favorite part of your job? My favorite part of the job is really to see people grow—both participants and my colleagues. It gives me great joy to see a young person who didn’t think they would finish high school actually graduate from college because of the impact of The First Tee. Also to see an individual who didn’t think they had the capabilities to manage a department successfully, lead their team with confidence. Or, to see a board take on an entire market or service area provides equal delight.
5. How do you feel the game of golf impacts character-building in the lives of young children and teens? The impact really takes place when the young person incorporates the core values inherent to golf in their daily life. Take goal setting, for example. Many people don’t have a habit of setting goals, but you don’t succeed in life unless you set goals. When I see the young people who let the life skill of goal setting become part of their lives, it means they have moved to the next level. When Stop, Think, Anticipate and
Respond becomes a way of life (STAR, as we call it) it means they are thinking
about what they are doing, and then anticipating what their response will be. This means that they are thinking things through, and that’s very important in both golf and life. Our impact on young people, in terms of the core values and life skills, is important to us because it affects their way of life. It truly is more than just a game.
6. Who do you most revere in the golf industry and why? You know, I’ve thought a lot about this question, and I think it’s the coaches. Obviously I can name an individual, but more importantly it’s the coaches because they’ve spent so much time and energy in terms of learning how to teach our curriculum. We have a great curriculum, but the manner in which our coaches deliver the curriculum is even greater. Anyone can devise a curriculum, the question is whether or not the recipient of that curriculum will take it to heart. And, our participants have taken it to heart because our coaches have worked so hard in presenting it in a manner in which has been and continues to be successful. My hats are off to the coaches.
7. What does your organization do to promote golf among women and children? To start, we’ve set some explicit objectives to reach 10 million additional young people by 2017. We’ve also set a goal to grow female
participation to 45 percent, a step up from the 36–37 percent we have now. These goals set the tone in terms of how we as an organization want to move forward. Along the way, we’ve learned that it is important to have female
coaches and mentors at the chapters because young girls respond positively to female role models. We’ve also learned that young ladies tend to enjoy the
social aspects of the game more than the competitive aspects. Understanding this means that we are focused on incorporating the LPGA and USGA Girls in Golf program because it’s more socially oriented than it is competitive.
8. What are some ways for others to get involved in helping further The First Tee’s mission? Many people assume volunteering involves interacting with young people on the tee and requires a lot of knowledge about golf, but in reality there are plenty of opportunities to help off of the course as well. People can get involved through becoming a coach, mentor or volunteer, helping with administrative tasks in the office or participating as a board member.
9. If you could tell one story about how The First Tee has made a difference, what would it be? Telling one story is like choosing your favorite child. There’s no such thing! All of the young people who are in a better place in their life because of The First Tee have valuable stories. So there’s not one story, there are multiple stories. Plus, it’s not just about the young people we reach, it’s about the young people we don’t reach. Because those are the ones who don’t necessarily incorporate the values that are so ingrained in golf and brought out by The First Tee. And that’s very important for us—to reach young people that haven’t yet incorporated those values.
10. What is one thing you and your team members do for fun together? One of my favorite things to do at the home office is to walk
into our break room at lunch time and hear the staff laughing, joking and
chatting with each other. Their enthusiasm is contagious, they genuinely care
about each other, and they do tremendous work while having fun at the same time. When you develop an organization's culture, one of the primary concerns is that people like each other. The employees at the home office really get along, and that’s all I can hope for as a leader. We do a lot of things to have fun, and a lot of the fun comes from their camaraderie, but also their focus on the objectives. There will be great pleasure and celebration when we reach 10 million more young people as well as the number of coaches and program locations we need.
11. Is there anything else you would like to share that wasn’t already covered? I’ve been at The First Tee for 14 years, and it’s really fun to see an organization grow the way The First Tee has grown. Our chapters
understand the importance of what they do and their partnerships with the Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCAs and other youth-serving organizations. I’ve been able to watch this organization mature, and for that reason, I have a sense of gratitude that not everyone gets to experience.
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