First Tee coach leads with gratitude

Karla Garcia is the Lead Instructor at First Tee Coachella Valley. (First Tee Coachella Valley)


That’s the word that Karla Garcia says again and again when describing her journey to First Tee. Garcia, now 19 and a first-generation college student, is pursuing a golf management degree at College of the Desert and hopes to join the golf team next semester. Ironically, the Spanish word “agradecimiento” (gratitude) is how she feels toward her local First Tee chapter and how it helped her learn to speak English.

After moving to Coachella Valley from Mayrit, Mexico at the age of 11 and without knowing a single word of English, Garcia, needed to learn the language fast. Her stepdad suggested First Tee Coachella Valley as an afterschool activity to help her hear and speak more English with both adults and kids.

“Even though I didn’t understand what the coaches were saying at first, everyone was so warm and welcoming, and I was able to enjoy being outside and playing golf,” Garcia recalls.

“I was very shy at first, but with everyone being so nice, I became more outgoing and got better at English each day!”

Garcia continued to attend First Tee Coachella Valley for the next several years, practicing her golf skills while slowly breaking out of her shell and feeling more comfortable with her English. Before she knew it, Garcia was spending all her free time at the chapter, practicing golf and English each day and even offering her time as a volunteer coach to the younger groups.

“My coaches were always so supportive and went above and beyond to help me and I’m so grateful. I want to be able to do the same for others since First Tee has given me so much,” Garcia gushed as she reminisced on some of her early memories with the program.

Volunteer coaching led to a full-time coaching offer in March 2021, where Garcia accepted the Lead Instructor role at First Tee Coachella Valley.

And as part of her new leadership role, Garcia has helped to develop the chapter’s first English as a Second Language (ESL) class, which will be launching in early spring. Garcia plans to bring her younger cousin to the ESL class and help coach him as he and his parents are still learning the language.

“I didn’t know any English, but I stuck with the program and learned! I think kids [like my cousin] will feel more comfortable with a mentor or coach who has been through what they are going through as participants,” said Garcia.

Agradecimiento is more than just a word to Karla Garcia, it’s her inspiration for the future. Her gratitude continues to help shape her plans following graduation.

“I hope to become a program executive at the First Tee so I can help provide playing opportunities and teach life skills to kids who typically wouldn’t have access,” Garcia explained. “I want to continue creating that same warm and safe place that I was so grateful for growing up.”

Garcia should have no shortage of opportunities to continue to work toward her goal. As First Tee celebrates their 25th anniversary this year, the youth development organization has grown to more than 145 chapters and 1,300 program locations across the country, using golf to empower kids and teach lessons about life.

To join in the 25th anniversary celebration or to find a First Tee chapter near you, visit

January 21, 2022
By Cara Canington ,  PGATOUR.COM