Matthew McLaughlin still remembers his first set of golf clubs.
“I was about 4,” he says. “We were living in suburban New Jersey and one of my dad’s friends had a set of clubs he wasn’t using, so my dad cut them down for me. I went out and made my own course in the back five acres, and pretty much never put those clubs down.”
Several broken windows and family moves later, McLaughlin’s love for the sport had him participating in strong junior golf programs in several southern states, followed by collegiate golf and a short stint playing professionally.
But moving to the Chicago area 10 years ago—the last six of those to start a family in Barrington—McLaughlin saw that the well-supported junior golf programs he benefitted from in his youth were missing here.
“It seemed so unfortunate to me that junior golf was underdeveloped here,” he says, “I knew from my own experience that there are so many character building life skills and opportunities that come from learning the game when you are young. In fact, I’m certain I would be nowhere near where I am in my life today if it hadn’t been for golf.”
So McLaughlin made it his mission to change the situation by bringing Barrington The First Tee—an international youth nonprofit established 20 years ago to introduce kids and teens to golf. McLaughlin, current president and a founding member of the First Tee of Greater Chicago’s Ambassador Society (a young professionals’ board), had seen the positive impact the nonprofit organization’s approach to golf made when he volunteered at The First Tee events in the city.
“The First Tee not only teaches golf, but merges each lesson with teachings about core values and healthy habits that go hand-in-hand with the sport—honesty, integrity, confidence, respect, perseverance, courtesy, judgment, responsibility, and sportsmanship.”
With a desire to bring this to Barrington, McLaughlin worked with First Tee of Greater Chicago’s Executive Director Lisa Quinn to get First Tee summer golf instruction going through the Barrington Park District at Langendorf Park’s 5-hole golf course. With that in place, they moved on to find grants to bring golf programming into Barrington’s elementary school gym classes.
“I’m thrilled to say that we’ve accomplished that goal with the help of the Barrington Community Foundation and other donations,” says McLaughlin. “As the 2019-20 school year commences, kids at all of Barrington’s elementary schools will now have golf instruction as part of their physical education throughout the school year.”
Helping to make this happen, the boys and girls golf programs at Barrington High School banded together to form a First Tee junior advisory board, and with help from the Beaubian Family, the group hosted a 55-hole golf marathon at Langendorf Park this past summer that raised more than $11,000.
But there’s more work ahead, explains McLaughlin, who is now working to raise funds to vastly improve and upgrade Langendorf’s golf course. He’s also excited to see the programs that are now in place impact the lives of Barrington’s youth.
“First Tee gives everyone access to golf, which is the way it should be. And as the kids learn and mature in the sport, The First Tee has scholarship programs to keep paying that forward, giving kids opportunities to play in tournaments, and, to help them to pay for college. We may be deprived of year ‘round good weather here but golf is a lifelong sport. It’s really fulfilling to make that more accessible to kids.”
McLaughlin says there are myriad opportunities to volunteer.
“Fundraising, donating, mentoring, supporting the in-school program, or even coaching,” he says. “There are all kinds of ways to help out.”
For more information, visit thefirstteegreaterchicago.org.