2020 Fall Program Photo_Design a Hole Challenge.jpg

Kids in the First Tee – Sandhills STEMs in Session program at Pinehurst No. 6 this fall. The participants expressed their creativity by designing on paper and then building their own golf hole.

What will 2021 look like?

That’s the billion dollar question for our kids, loved ones, neighbors, those in the community in need of social, emotional and physical support and our careers.

Will in-person school return for all students? Will indoor sports return? Will we be able to socialize indoors without caution? Will our kids be able to attend overnight summer camps?

These questions, and so many more, race through my mind impulsively without control.

Though, instead of allowing my mind to race, thinking negatively about the ‘what if’s,’ I strive to reflect on how lucky we’ve been this summer and fall.

Y’all, we are so lucky to live in the land of the pines.

A community with so many outdoor opportunities at our fingertips during these most unusual times. Our options are endless.

We have golf courses, soccer and baseball fields, pickleball and tennis courts, community green spaces, running trails, lakes, and horse tracks. Then there’s the horticulture gardens, prop plane airports, local farmers supplying fresh produce.

I wouldn’t have wanted to live anywhere else these last eight months. The fresh air and outdoor adventures have afforded us so many positive mental health moments.

Moments I have not taken enough advantage of in years past, well, ever.

Moments I have engraved in my mind to say, ‘Hey, these need to happen consistently,’ not just when our environment forces us to do so.

While I know first-hand many things didn’t play out to our vision or liking in 2020, I’m not willing to give life to it anymore. Instead, I am pivoting to focusing on the sunlight we have seen this year.

The sunlight on our home, our community, our work at First Tee – Sandhills.

This summer, we embraced Mother Nature and welcomed kiddos with open arms to golf courses and community parks for week-long camps.

Yes, we tweaked things here and there. We added even more safety zones, more than doubled our equipment inventory, and washed our hands even more than you can imagine.

But, those kiddos and our volunteers didn’t miss a beat.

In fact, our 2020 summer camp participation surpassed that of 2019 by 50. Yes, 50 more kiddos joined us outdoors for the first time ever.

We even picked up new volunteers. Yes, new volunteers during a pandemic.

Then, this fall, as we balanced some kiddos returning to school, others staying home and parents trying to simply figure it all and stay afloat, we tweaked things again.

We offered our traditional curriculum based youth development programs at golf courses in the Sandhills while also incorporating a Golf STEM class, Golf PE class and a Drive, Chip and Putt skills practice.

Though COVID forced us to reduce our overall number of spots available, our percentage filled was our highest in five years.

We have had so much fun in 2020.


We embraced the challenges we have faced, squeezed every ounce of goodness out of our surroundings and showed kids we will be OK.

Why? Because life experiences are our greatest teacher.

When we develop experiences that are just as fun as they are meaningful, kids are excited to engage, grow, mess up and learn to pivot.

And when it’s all said and done, they are better equipped for whatever is thrown at them next.

As crazy as it may all sound, it all gets achieved outdoors, in the fresh air, at a golf course here in the Sandhills.

So, before you shift into thinking about what 2021 is going to look like. My task for you this Sunday is this….

Take a moment to reflect on your last eight months in the land of the pines. Push away all the frustration and disappointment. Clear a path for reflection on all the moments that have been special and unique.

Some were forced by circumstances, others were chosen by circumstances.

Were those experiences you’re glad you didn’t miss out on?

Do you want those moments to continue when we have the opportunity to return to what used to be our normal?

How will you incorporate the good of the last eight months into normal when it returns?

What will you turn down that you used to say yes to?

Prepare yourself today to know what you want your lifestyle and experiences to look like tomorrow.

That is your homework this Sunday.

Courtney Stiles is the executive director of First Tee – Sandhills. Contact her at cstiles@thefirstteesandhills.org.

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