First Tee girls golf
AnnaLeis Dibert, outreach coordinator for The First Tee of the Upstate, works with Emma Beam, 8, during an all-girls program at Carolina Golf Club of Botany Woods. Photo by Bob Castello

AnnaLeis Dibert admits it’s cliche, but having come full circle with The First Tee, she has landed in a “dream come true.”

“My first golf class was an all-girls golf class, and that’s what really made me come back,” said Dibert, outreach coordinator for The First Tee of the Upstate. “I was surrounded by girls, and we were all learning it together.”

It was the first day of an eight-week program at Carolina Golf Club at Botany Woods in Greenville and another sign of the increase in girls’ participation in the sport.

“It’s the fastest-growing demographic in the game of golf,” said Michael Pius, executive director of The First Tee of the Upstate.

When Pius took over in 2017, the organization’s girls’ participation was at 28 percent, far shy of the national average of 40 percent. Within one year, the number grew to 38 percent.

Brenda Rutledge of the LPGA Amateur Golf Association, a volunteer with The First Tee of the Upstate, teaches putting during an all-girls program at Carolina Golf Club of Botany Woods. Photo by Bob Castello.

As a whole during the same time period, the organization grew by 46 percent (from 425 to 635) — well above the national average of about 11 percent.

Much of the girls growth is by design, according to Pius, who previously served as Senior Program Director with The First Tee of Greater Washington, D.C.

Pius said that when he was looking to improve the retention rate with girls in Washington, he came across an LPGA USA program, hired the right person, and saw the numbers grow.

“When I moved down here and I saw where the numbers were, I knew we needed to do this girls golf program down here, too,” Pius said. “We were able to hire AnnaLeis, and it just snowballed.”

Dibert began working with The First Tee when she was 13, earned a scholarship to North Greenville University, and wrapped up her career as a four-team all-conference player in 2015.

Now Dibert — with the help of volunteers from the LPGA Amateur Golf Association — is delivering the same message she once received to various groups, but the all-girls program is particularly significant.

From left, Mackenzie Smith, Brooke Smith, Emma Beam, and Addison Beam choose clubs for a drill during an all-girls program at Carolina Golf Club of Botany Woods. Photo by Bob Castello.

“I’m teaching golf, but I’m teaching confidence, I’m teaching sportsmanship, I’m teaching self-awareness and self-esteem,” Dibert said.

When The First Tee was founded in 1997, its focus was to “bring an affordable junior golf program to communities that did not have them.” It’s evolved into an organization that teaches life lessons with golf as a platform.

“It’s about the life skills, the interpersonal skills, the goal-setting, the resiliency skills — all those that are inherent in the game,” Pius said. “You don’t realize it, and the kids don’t realize that we’re teaching it to them. It’s all seamless.”

Here’s how you can learn more and help the cause:

  • What: The First Tee of the Upstate’s fifth annual Kentucky Derby Viewing Party & Silent Auction
  • When: 5-7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 4
  • Where: BMW Zentrum, 1400 S.C. Highway 101, Greer
  • Tickets: $50
  • Info:


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