A New Series: First Tee Features

First Tee – Connecticut Features highlight individuals impacted by the organization’s mission to empower kids and teens through the game of golf.

March 2024: In celebration of Women’s History Month, our First Tee – Connecticut feature story focuses on one of our best and brightest alumni, Andra Frappier, Women’s Head Golf Coach at Trinity College. Andra shares her perspective being introduced to the game as a young girl and how her experiences with First Tee – Connecticut at East Mountain Golf Course in Waterbury shaped the foundation of core values in her life.

Andra Frappier: A Introduction to Golf at First Tee – Connecticut Forges a Love for the Game Shaping Collegiate and Career Decisions

March is Women’s History Month, and we are proud to highlight one of First Tee – Connecticut’s best and brightest alumni, Trinity College Women’s Head Golf Coach Andra Frappier. The only child of parents Cheryl and Richard, Andra was introduced to the game of golf by her dad, a golf enthusiast, and started accompanying him to the golf course at age 3. An athlete like her father, Andra participated in soccer, basketball, and golf but her new love for the game prevailed.

Encouraged by her father’s disciplined approach to the game, Andra became fascinated by the realization that the more work she put into her game, the better the results. She credits her dad with making the game fun as well, creating games and contests that improved her skill, but offered a break from the solitude of practice. Golf suited Andra’s ability to occupy herself with her own thoughts and imagination and she immersed herself further, starting to understand that she had some potential to play this sport at a higher level. First Tee – Connecticut was about three years into its existence at this time and already had a presence at East Mountain G.C. in Waterbury. Spurred on with friends, both boys and girls, Andra became even more fond of the game with this new social aspect and made a new “best friend,” Joe Forget.

 From 6th grade through 9th grade, the group played and competed together, traveling to nearby tournaments with Andra enjoying the camaraderie and the extra motivation to keep working and improving her game. Looking back on these formative years, Andra credits the core values learned throughout this period as “the foundation for the rest of my life.” There was respect for each other, wonderful lessons of sportsmanship and perseverance as they all strived to improve and get to the “next step” of playing more events with the Connecticut Section PGA and elsewhere. Andra was internally focused with a tough exterior, able to take constructive criticism well, and displayed an analytical approach to problem-solving. She learned to take golf and life “one step at a time” preferring not to look ahead but stay in the moment. Challenges were meant to be examined, and solutions might demand an “adapt, pivot and overcome” tactic to move forward.

A 2013 graduate of Cheshire High School, Andra was one of a handful of girls headed to play collegiate golf from Connecticut. The ultimate goal of all her hard work had been accomplished as Andra made the Women’s Golf Team at Fairleigh Dickinson in New Jersey on a college scholarship! Soon, Andra realized the work had really just begun. Relying on her dedicated work ethic and inner resilience from her First Tee days, Andra had a terrific year balancing golf, academics, and other adjustments to freshman life. That tough inner strength was going to be tested in the ensuing years as her game became sporadic, shooting 76/92 in a sophomore event and not able to find her form again, struggling with self-doubt. A summer job in the Pro Shop at Lyman Orchards after junior year afforded her an afternoon membership at the club and she returned for senior year, renewed and stronger, ready to assume a solid place on the team once again.

With a major in Criminal Justice and Legal Studies and a lifelong desire to become a Police Officer, Andra believed her golf career was in the rear view after her college graduation in 2016. She earnestly started working on her application for the Police Academy. Andra is struck by the idea that her First Tee friend from 7 years old, Joe Forget, then Assistant Professional at Lyman Orchards, helped change the direction of her life. Andra had thoroughly enjoyed her summer job at Lyman, and her close friendship with Marisa Kulig Crow who was in the early years of establishing her phenomenal women’s programs. With Joe and Marisa offering support, plans for the Police Academy were put on hold and Andra accepted a position as an instructor of junior girls and women players at Lyman Orchards.

The next six years with Lyman saw Andra working alongside Marisa building the Women’s Golf lessons into a program with unprecedented success, earning Marisa two LPGA National awards. Andra earned her Professional status, and taught camp, endless amounts of women’s lessons, wore several hats and became completely engrossed in the daily routine. There was plenty of laughter and fun with the long hours and Andra had not paused long enough to assess her overall “life plan” after Lyman. Turning inwards and reflecting alone on a new opportunity presented to her, Andra realized she needed to pursue her own path, and that teaching golf full-time was not her dream job. Trusting her core values and life skills, Andra embarked on a new position as Women’s Golf Head Coach at Trinity College in 2022.

 Now in her second year at Trinity, Andra has become more aligned with her authentic self and is thrilled to be paying it forward and teaching her team the important lessons she learned at First Tee – Connecticut. She advises them to “be patient, have fun, stay in the moment, and always be a good representative of yourself and the institution.”  The lessons are not limited to the golf course, as Andra finds herself advising the team on everything from academics to the other demands of collegiate athletics. She’s become a better listener, opening herself up and showing a more vulnerable side of herself than ever before. She is a team mom, friend, even therapist, as they work together to “peel back the onion” and explore different layers of themselves, strengthening their bond and the overall team.

Andra is amazed at the growth in the First Tee – Connecticut chapter since her early days and immensely proud to be an alum of the program. Her own recruiting efforts have forged new bonds with First Tee participants from across the country and she hopes to attract more First Tee alumni to Trinity, knowing they have a similar foundation of core values. To give back to her team, help them be successful, and share the experiences that Andra feels fortunate to have had at First Tee – Connecticut is the current plan. We are incredibly proud to have Andra as a representative of our organization and a shining example of the opportunities available here and through the game of golf. Will there ever be an Officer Frappier? Stay tuned as we might once again see Andra “adapt, pivot and overcome,” welcoming a new challenge in her life.

February 2024: As part of Black History Month, our First Tee – Connecticut Feature story highlights the journey of Eric Grant, First Tee – Connecticut staff member at Goodwin Park Golf Course.

Eric Grant: A Black Man’s Journey through Life to Golf and his Path to First Tee – Connecticut.

As part of Black History Month, our First Tee – Connecticut Feature story highlights the journey of Eric Grant, First Tee – Connecticut staff member at Goodwin Park Golf Course. During his school years Eric played team sports like baseball and football with his friends. Eric attended UCONN, was a member of the Middletown Army National Guard and at 22, became an Officer in the Portland Police Department. He is the first and only African American Police Officer to serve in Portland and in 2009 was honored as the Connecticut Officer of the Year! Currently, Eric works as a Physical Education teacher in the Hartford Public Schools. You may be asking how did Eric wind up involved in golf?

Eric Grant is an incredibly charismatic man, with a wide grin, good nature and a positive perspective on life. He described his father, a Supervisor at Pratt and Whitney as “magnanimous, happy, charming, everyone loved him”. Clearly, the apple has not fallen far from the tree. Growing up, the Grants were the only Black family in the town of Chester. Eric’s world was divided; he was among all Black people when with family, and all white people the rest of the time which was the majority of his days. Eric’s father was a very proud, confident Black man and did not let discrimination hold himself or Eric back from whatever they wished to pursue. His dad was well respected in his supervisory role, loved his family and had an abundance of friends, many of whom began to play golf in the Pratt & Whitney Golf League.

The golf bug had set in, and Eric’s father and friends expanded their horizons and began playing in the Ebony Golf Classic Tour, an all-black tour sponsored by Ebony Magazine with stops up and down the eastern United States. Eric was along for the ride and traveled to Virginia, Alabama, Mrytle Beach and other terrific golf destinations.  His time was not spent on the golf course watching his dad, however, but predominately in the arcades playing video games and the like. It was that era, and Eric never had a thought that he should also be playing golf. For that matter, neither did his dad. It was not so much prejudice, Eric believes, but more the fact that there were no kids hanging around at these golf courses, no kids at school or on T.V. that played and no young role models in general.  To Eric and his dad, golf was simply a sport for older people to play.

As Eric’s adult life continued in Connecticut, his parents retired to Panama City, FL and Eric’s visits began to include playing golf with his father, sharing his clubs. Within a year of his first attempts to play, Eric was hooked and bought his first set of clubs. He began bonding with his father in a whole different way, taking golf trips together and making special memories. His father idolized Calvin Peete and his memory holds significant meaning to Eric to this day as the first and only African American Professional golfer they knew at the time.

Eric’s athletic pursuits continued during his years on the force, playing soccer in a Men’s League and coaching Girls Soccer at Haddam – Killingworth for twenty years. He decided to delve into a second career in athletics and obtained a degree at Central Connecticut over three years alongside shifts at night to teach Physical Education. Eric retired from the Police Force and began teaching P.E. to pre-school to 2nd graders at Valley View Elementary School in Portland. Sadly, Eric’s father passed just before he made the move to becoming a full-time teacher.

On the home front with summers off, Eric began making frequent loops at Portland Golf Course. Eric landed a job teaching P.E. at Thirman Milner Middle School adjacent to Keney Park, close to Goodwin Park and started golfing there regularly. His association with Ron Victor, Head Professional at Goodwin Park, and formerly of Portland Golf Course, became the final connection to Eric working in the Pro Shop at Goodwin Park with First Tee – Connecticut during the summer months.

As a father of two daughters, Brookelyn, 13 years, and Savannah, 10 years, Eric demonstrates the importance of sharing Black history in Hartford with his girls. They know that Thirman Milner, for whom Eric’s school is named, was the 1st African American Mayor of Hartford. Brookelyn attends Beman Middle School and will tell you that her school is named after the former pastor at her church.  Rev. Jehiel Beman was pastor of the Cross Street African Methodist Episcopal Church, a co-founder of the Middletown Anti-Slavery Society, and a conductor on Middletown’s leg of the Underground Railroad.

Eric has introduced golf to his girls and his younger daughter is very enthused. Eric sees the majority of minority players at Keney Park G.C. and Goodwin Park G.C. and wants to make sure Savannah feels comfortable in her own experience, playing there and at other courses as well as attending First Tee – Connecticut lessons. As a coach, Eric is impressed with the First Tee’s active learning experiences with little idle time, learning patience, etiquette and respect waiting for their turn, dealing with disappointment and sometimes hearing “no”.

These days Eric plays in a golf league with 11 other African American friends and admits that heads turn as they arrive and make their way around the golf course. In his own words, they “have a blast and the beauty of being on a golf course in the morning, there is nothing like it. Golf brings people together and people are people, let’s treat everyone the same”. To Eric, playing golf is not that different of a journey than in other areas of life because “we are always representing our entire culture in these spaces where there is not a lot of representation”.

Had it not been for Eric’s father playing golf at Pratt & Whitney and forging his way through tours like the Ebony Golf Classic, Eric might never have been introduced to the game. We are extremely thankful for the journey that brought Eric Grant to us at First Tee – Connecticut and know that there are many more meaningful chapters of life ahead.

February 2024: PJ Cavaliere, a senior at Villanova, reflects on his fifteen-year transformative journey with First Tee – Connecticut. From learning valuable life skills as a young student in group lessons to honing leadership skills as a scholar in First Tee’s National Ace Program, PJ credits First Tee – Connecticut with his success and perspective on life.

PJ Cavaliere: An ACE Program Scholar Reflects on his First Tee – Connecticut Story

In the world of golf, achieving an “Ace” is a moment of triumph, a combination of skill, dedication and a touch of luck. For PJ Cavaliere, a 21-year-old senior at Villanova, his journey with First Tee – Connecticut has been an ace of its own kind, a transformative experience that goes beyond the greens.

PJ’s connection with First Tee spans an impressive 15 years, shaping his character and providing invaluable life lessons both on and off the golf course. Hailing from Marlborough, PJ’s involvement in First Tee began at the behest of his parents, who saw the potential for growth and development in their sons through early exposure to golf.

As he stands on the cusp of graduation from Villanova, PJ reflects on the profound impact First Tee – Connecticut has had on his life. “First Tee has been more than just a golf program; it’s been a guide to navigating life’s challenges,” PJ shares. “The values I’ve learned—respect, honesty and integrity—are not just for the golf course; they’re for life.”

PJ’s journey took an exciting turn when he became part of First Tee National’s Ace Capstone Program. Ace is designed for teens like PJ, offering a multi-layered approach that integrates skills and inner strengths developed through First Tee chapters. It serves as a game-plan for the future, guiding participants toward exploration, investment and the creation of a clear plan for what comes next.

“The Ace experience allowed me to delve deeper into life skills,” PJ notes. “It’s not just about golf; it’s about applying these skills to real-life scenarios. The program has been instrumental in shaping my perspective and preparing me for the challenges beyond college.”

The Ace program’s eligibility criteria, which included a minimum age of 14 or entering high school, a three-year commitment to First Tee – Connecticut and a readiness assessment by the chapter, highlight the dedication required. For PJ, meeting these criteria was a testament to his unwavering commitment to personal and skill development.

PJ will work at Travelers upon graduation and emphasizes the significance of the Ace program in honing essential life skills. “Teaching golf to others through volunteering and coaching has given me a deeper understanding of the game,” he says. “These skills are not just beneficial on the golf course but are directly applicable to life and my career.”

PJ has been actively involved in giving back to the community through volunteering and coaching for First Tee – Connecticut. He finds fulfillment in sharing his knowledge and experiences with others, reinforcing the idea that the time commitment to First Tee – Connecticut is reasonable and the rewards are immeasurable.

Encouraging individuals of all ages to engage with First Tee – Connecticut, PJ highlights the program’s unique ability to blend golf, life skills and community engagement. “First Tee provides a holistic experience that goes beyond golf swings and putting,” he asserts. “It’s about building character, fostering a sense of community, and realizing the positive impact one can make.”

As PJ looks toward the future, he carries with him the resilience, integrity and leadership skills instilled by First Tee – Connecticut. His journey serves as a testament to the program’s ability to mold not just skilled golfers but empowered individuals ready to navigate the challenges of life beyond the green.

January 2024: Paige McKenna’s journey with First Tee – Connecticut is a compelling narrative of growth, leadership, and passion. Her story echoes the organization’s mission of instilling life skills through the game of golf, leaving an indelible mark on the Fairfield community and beyond. As Paige looks forward to inspiring the next generation, she embodies the spirit of First Tee – Connecticut: building not just skilled golfers, but resilient, confident, and compassionate individuals ready to make a positive impact on the world.

Paige McKenna: A Journey of Growth, Leadership, and Passion with First Tee – Connecticut

In the heart of vibrant Fairfield, Conn., one individual’s journey stands out as a testament to the transformative power of First Tee – Connecticut. Paige McKenna is a remarkable young woman whose story intertwines with the core values and impactful programs of First Tee.

Paige’s connection with First Tee began at the tender age of 7, a pivotal point where her journey in golf and life skills education took root. What started as a simple introduction to golf evolved into a profound love for the organization, shaped by the innovative and engaging coaching methods that made learning not only fun but also deeply impactful.

Reflecting on her early experiences, Paige shares, “First Tee wasn’t just about golf for me. It was about the interesting ways the coaches taught me, making every lesson an adventure. They weren’t just teaching me how to swing a club; they were instilling values that would shape who I am becoming.”

First Tee goes beyond conventional golf instruction; it’s a holistic approach to youth development, imparting essential life skills and leadership qualities. Paige emphasizes, “I’ve learned everything from how to be a leader to giving a firm, confident handshake. The coaches teach us about respect and many qualities that we can carry with us as we grow older.”

One of the defining moments in Paige’s journey was her participation in the First Tee Innovators Forum in Jacksonville, Fla. This unique experience allowed her to collaborate on a project aimed at engaging more girls in golf, showcasing the organization’s commitment to inclusivity. Paige reflects on this opportunity, saying, “Being part of the Innovators Forum was eye-opening. It taught me not to fear failure and ignited a passion for golf and helping people.”

First Tee, with its dedicated volunteers, creates an environment where learning extends beyond the golf course. Paige fondly recalls, “The volunteers make it fun. They bring so much energy and positivity to every session. It’s not just about golf; it’s about teaching us valuable life skills and leadership qualities that we can apply in any situation.”

Looking ahead, Paige envisions herself giving back to the community that has played a pivotal role in her development. She plans to volunteer in golf lessons specifically designed for girls, with a mission to inspire and empower them. “I want to share the joy of golf and the valuable lessons I’ve learned at First Tee with other girls. It’s about creating a space where they feel confident, supported and ready to take on any challenge.”