Alumni Spotlight – Participant to golf Career – Nicole Eager

I started in the program at First Tee of Plainfield at age 11.  At the time I thought it was just another activity my parents wanted to throw me into. I would have never thought First Tee was going to guide me into the life and career path I now have. I constantly struggled with being one of the few girls in the program when I was younger and thought of quitting golf because of it, but as the program expanded, more and more girls joined the program.  When I reached the Ace Level at 16, I felt so much pride for being able to stick through the program and persevere even when I found myself struggling at times. Once I became an Ace it felt great to have the kids in other levels looking up to me and one day also wanting to be at my level.  Reaching Ace feels like receiving your black belt. I felt a higher level of responsibility and making sure no matter where I was or who I met, I was always representing my core values, and making sure I was a good First Tee Met New York representative. While doing some of my volunteer hours for the Ace Level, I understood what it felt like to be on the other side of the classroom and golf course. It made me really start thinking of what I would want to do as a career.

First Tee Met New York has given me so many amazing opportunities. I was chosen to go on the Girls Golf and FORE! trip to the 2013 Women’s US Open at Sebonack Golf Club.   11 other girls and I stayed at a house in the Hamptons for a week and attended the tournament every day. While there, we had the opportunity to not only see the best women in the world play, we had an exclusive look behind the scenes of a major tournament by getting a media tour, volunteering at the driving range, and even getting to meet some of the players like Paula Creamer and Lydia Ko. This trip was my turning point and I knew I wanted to stay in the golf industry for the rest of my life.  That same year, I was also chosen to attend a First Tee Leadership Academy in North Carolina and learn from some of the best.  I went on many more day trips, but the list is way too long! One of the best things First Tee has done for me is giving me the opportunity to meet some of my best friends that I still have today. It is really hard, especially being a young woman, to go to a golf course and try to find someone to golf with that is your age. Without meeting friends at First Tee I know I wouldn’t have wanted to continue playing golf.

Meeting First Tee Met New York Program Director, Katie Rudolph when I was 14 changed a lot for me, because she was one of the first female coaches I had as a mentor. She helped me through some tough times. I knew I could never reach playing professionally, but she showed me I could have a place in the golf industry without having to be a professional. By the time I was 17, Katie asked if I wanted a job for the summer being a coach at First Tee. I thought it sounded like the best job ever, so I immediately said yes.  Some of my main responsibilities included; being a workout partner for a participant that needed an extra push, help monitor the kids on and off the golf course ensuring everyone stayed safe, and to be an extra helping hand!  It was that summer I realized I loved the feeling of making a difference.  I came back every summer. I suddenly found myself at age 21 with the same summer job since I was in high school, going into my senior year of college at Rutgers University studying Sport Management with the intention of continuing in the golf industry after graduation.

Continuing with First Tee Met New York after graduation felt right, because I had the advantage of being a former participant and it really helps me connect with our kids since I was in their exact position.  I have grown to the role Director of Operations at our Newark campus, located at Weequahic Golf Course. Some of my main responsibilities include administrative duties, taking the kids on the golf course, teaching  classes and creating lesson plans. I try to tailor our lesson plans to make sure we keep participants engaged from beginning to end.  I look back on my time as a First Tee participant and really try to remember all of the things I found fun and even the things I thought weren’t as fun, so I can try to bring the best program possible to our kids.

Since the Covid-19 quarantine started, I had some challenges in the beginning trying to figure out how to bring our program online, but I’m proud of what we have been able to do for our families. During quarantine, I have been able to get even more creative and come up with 20+ different games our kids can play at home.   I even spent an entire day creating an epic 9-hole mini golf course in my living room.   There have been many challenges, but one thing this situation did for us is show how our First Tee family really came together to help one another during this difficult time.  This situation has definitely brought us all a lot closer. I cannot wait until we can all be back together again!