Building on the success of our year-old initiative with youth development organization First Tee has helped give even more kids of all backgrounds access to character-building programs through golf. Learn how a more inclusive tomorrow starts today.
At Morgan Stanley, golf is more than a game. For the past seven years, Morgan Stanley has leveraged its platform as a proud partner of THE PLAYERS® Championship—which was broadcast to nearly 23 million viewers last year—to support efforts that grant youth from underrepresented communities greater access to education, including financial literacy, and the tools they need to succeed.
In 2017 Morgan Stanley launched the Eagles for Impact Challenge, which takes place each year at THE PLAYERS®; the firm donates $5,000 for every eagle made during the tournament to a charity focused on empowering the next generation. To date, we’ve donated over $1.6 million through the initiative. “This platform provides a great opportunity to bring our firm’s core values into action and support a key mission of Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Inclusion—advancing equity through giving to underrepresented groups in the communities where we live and work,” says Alice Milligan, Morgan Stanley’s Chief Marketing Officer. “It’s just one of the many ways we drive diversity, equity and inclusion for the next generation, from our HBCU Scholars program to our JumpStart initiative.”
Making representation our focus
Last year, as part of our Eagles for Impact Challenge, we chose to support First Tee, a youth development organization for kids ages five to 18 that has a 25-year history of empowering kids to develop life skills and values through the game of golf. For every eagle made during the tournament, we donated $5,000 to the non-profit’s Coach Diversity Initiative, which recruits and trains professional coaches who serve as truly representative leaders for the youth they mentor. A total of $250,000 was raised to help First Tee expand its program to provide access to higher level training for 141 diverse coaches. Coaches like Anthony Rodriguez of Mosholu, New York, who was awarded the 2022 Metropolitan PGA of America Youth Player Development Award. And this year we hope to impact even more kids with our Eagles for Impact Challenge.
Jennifer Weiler, First Tee’s Senior Vice President of Network Relations, says, “We feel strongly that hiring more female coaches and more coaches of color will help us attract and retain a greater number of diverse families and kids to our programs.” The goal is to give those children the tools they need to succeed, recognizing that the people who are providing those tools are key.
“Far too many kids are discouraged from getting involved in certain sports because they don't see people that represent who they are. Having a female coach who is a PGA pro and an excellent golfer has only had a positive impact on our participants,” says Erica Yates, Director of Programming for First Tee - Colorado Rocky Mountains. “Having someone to talk to about their experiences on and off the golf course, advice about high school/collegiate sports and the PGA pro path has been nothing but beneficial for them.
Lessons that go beyond golf
And the children who participate in the program don’t learn just about golf. First Tee coaches create learning experiences that build inner strength that kids can carry to everything they do. “Our ‘secret sauce’ is the integration of golf skills with life skills, helping kids build self-confidence and resilience,” says Weiler. “We have PGA and LPGA pros who are experts at teaching golf but, with our training, they learn to blend that with character education, which is very intentional,” she says.
Valerie Wong Fountain, Morgan Stanley’s Head of Family Office Resources Platform and Partner Management, knows just how important such lessons are—and how instrumental golf can be in imparting them. She’s a board member of both the Morgan Stanley Foundation and First Tee’s Metropolitan New York chapter. “Inherent to the game of golf are many of the values that matter in life, such as perseverance and the ability to overcome challenges,” says Fountain, who walked on to the University of Pennsylvania’s golf team as a freshman and remains the first Asian American to do so in the school’s history. “I believe golf may be one of the only sports where you can call a penalty on yourself,” she says. “Being responsible for your own actions, having a conscience, doing the right thing when someone isn’t calling you out for it really leads to being a responsible member of society at large.”
Fountain, who has spearheaded efforts to introduce girls who take part in First Tee to the financial industry, notes that the game is also an excellent networking tool, since so many Fortune 500 CEOs hit the links. “The kids who participate in First Tee learn that golf offers an opportunity to meet anybody out on a golf course. If someone takes an interest in your professional development, it can be life-changing because you can be set on a course you might never have thought possible.
Paving the way for a new generation
Says Fountain, "We have diverse families in the community looking at First Tee and saying, ‘I feel welcome here because the coaches look like we do.’” Weiler, for her part, remembers what an impact diverse mentors had on her when she was coming up. “I was always excited to have female coaches,” she says. “Kids want to see themselves reflected in their coaches and teachers.”
And with our support, even more such coaches will have a chance to inspire a new generation of leaders. Says Milligan, “Through this initiative with First Tee, we are not only giving children who don’t otherwise have access to the game of golf the chance to play, but are also equipping them with role models who can provide inspiration and perspective to encourage them to dream big, and to provide them with the skills they need to make those dreams come true.”