Our Broken Culture: Can Golf Fix It?


We have a civility problem in America; specifically, an increasing lack of it. Our country is devolving into a culture of conflict, disrespect and discord.

This state of incivility is “more than a perception,” said public affairs firm Weber Shandwick. “More than eight in 10 Americans (84%) have at one time or another experienced incivility and in a wide variety of places and settings, most typically while shopping (39%), while driving (39%) or while on social media (38%). More disturbingly, the frequency of uncivil encounters has risen dramatically since 2016.”

America, we have a problem. But there’s an easy solution, and we’re practicing it every day at First Tee of Coastal Carolinas.

First Tee is a national program that teaches golf and life skills to young people, typically ages 7 to 17. At the Coastal Carolinas chapter, we reach up to 30,000 kids each year in the Low Country counties stretching from Pamlico in eastern North Carolina to Georgetown in South Carolina. Yes, we try to teach kids the fundamentals of the great game of golf, an activity that can be enjoyed for a lifetime. But we’re doing more.

First Tee builds its programs, first and foremost, on a set of core values and communicates those values to First Tee players. What kind of values? The best kind: honesty, integrity, respect, sportsmanship, responsibility, confidence, judgment, courtesy and perseverance.

Do you recognize any values that might be worth practicing in today’s society?

How about showing respect for one another — even if we have differing opinions?

How about courtesy — a simply “thank you” or a compliment to someone who does a nice thing?

How about respect — deference toward institutions and individuals that work for the greater good?

Or how about responsibility — an understanding that we are responsible for our actions and their consequences?

At First Tee, we believe these values are the foundations not just for the game of golf, but for a life well-lived. As Ricky Fowler says, “Some of the best golf lessons don’t involve a golf swing.”

As a coach, I’ve seen these values in practice. I coach at the “Par” level, which engages youngsters from the ages of 9 to 11. Typically, at the start of our sessions, which usually run once-a-week for nine weeks, the kids are rambunctious and a little unfocused. We don’t bludgeon them with talk about First Tee values but try to integrate them into practical lessons. If a child talks during another person’s swing, for instance, we acknowledge it and then maybe have a short discussion about respect and sportsmanship. Or, if we’re teaching the kids how to keep score, we talk about the importance of honesty.

You can see small but meaningful changes in the dynamics of these classes as the weeks go on. The players become more courteous. They start to show more respect to one another. It becomes a virtuous circle, and it’s the hope of every First Tee coach that once planted, these values will grow and thrive over a lifetime.

It’s an upstream swim, for sure. Our kids today are glued to their screens and exposed to a stream of uncivil behavior through content on You Tube, TikTok and other social media platforms. If you’re paying attention, you know that a lot of this content doesn’t exemplify the core values we’re talking about here, to put it mildly. At First Tee, we’re hoping to be another voice helping parents and teachers give their kids a more balanced point-of-view.

But let’s get back to the problem at hand.

Let’s imagine if our political leaders demonstrated more courtesy and respect. Would we still have the kind of rancor we see today? If the core value of honesty was honored at a company like Boeing, would we have seen the kind of sustained cover-ups that led to the 737 Max debacle? If integrity were a core value at Wells Fargo, would the bank’s employees have opened phony customer accounts to pad their compensation? I think we all know the answers.

First Tee of Coastal Carolinas is a grass-roots effort to counteract this trend. For the past 20 years, it’s been focused on young people at a time when they are developing their values and attitudes. Maybe we should think about expanding our age limit and recruiting business executives, elected leaders and cable TV pundits.

They may turn out to be terrible golfers, but I bet they’d be better people.

(This article originally ran in the Feb. 28 edition of the State Port Pilot.)



  1. Russ, you hit the nail on the head! Congratulations on being part of a program that helps our next generations be better citizens! We all should try to be part of the solution.

  2. My dad took up golf a few years after immigrating to Canada from Italy. It was a sport he played – and loved – for decades. In fact we buried his favourite putter with him. Golf taught him many things, and all the things you spoke of in your article. He shared those with my brother, who is now sharing them with his sons. The lessons learned on a golf course are timeless and multi-generational. Keep up the great work!!

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