Matthew Biehl '24 had the opportunity of a lifetime participating in the 'First Tee' participant program with the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
By this time last year, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans had joined a list of countless sporting events to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One year, 11 months and 27 days later, the PGA TOUR’s unique team event returned.
While TOUR players had been anticipating the team-based tournament’s return since then, so had many of those in the community – a community that, despite the event’s cancellation last year, was still benefited by a more than $1.5 million donation from Zurich to New Orleans charities.
Among those beneficiaries was the First Tee – Greater New Orleans.
And, after working closely within the health and safety protocols of the tournament, the story came full circle when several First Tee participants received the opportunity to play in the Wednesday Pro-Am with TOUR players Harold Varner III and Branden Grace.
“Our decision to offer select charitable partners spots in the Pro-Am is only one small sliver of how our commitment to the New Orleans community and our charity partner the Fore!Kids Foundation continues to grow,” said Steve Nolan, Head of Marketing & Communications for Zurich North America.
One of the First Tee participants in the Pro-Am, Ariana Blagrove, 16, has been playing competitive golf since 2015 and now competes with her high school golf team.
Blagrove attributes her success as a golfer to First Tee, where she now serves as a junior coach to other students in the chapter. She was thrilled by the opportunity to play with Varner III.
“First Tee, to me, means believing in the power of you. It is an honor to play with some of the best players in the world,” said Blagrove.
“It was a fantastic experience that I will always remember! I felt special playing with the pros. The TOUR players we played with were very friendly and complimented us on our shots, which made me feel not so nervous and I started having fun.”
On top of her participation in First Tee, Blagrove is highly involved in her community. In May of 2018, she built a community vegetable and herb garden for the New Orleans Mission homeless shelter in Lacombe, Louisiana.
Blagrove received the Girl Scout Silver Award for her efforts, which is the highest award a Girl Scout Cadette can receive. Outside of her community work, Blagrove stays active using her musical talents as a seasonal performer in ballet, jazz and piano recitals. Long-term, Blagrove sees herself as a collegiate golfer and studying computer engineering.
For her, playing with Varner III was just a glimpse into what working hard and staying involved in the community could look like.
Joining Blagrove, the following First Tee – Greater New Orleans participants also enjoyed a round with Varner III and Grace:
• Victoria Stephens, 17, is an Ace Level student and junior coach at the chapter. Stephens won the Wells Fargo Scholarship in 2019 and attended the International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head, S.C.
• Matthew Biehl '24, 15, is an Eagle Level participant and junior coach at the chapter. Biehl plays on his high school golf team and was a Junior Course Reporter at the 2019 Zurich Classic.
• Mallory Noble, 17, is an Ace Level participant and junior coach at the chapter. Noble plays on her local high school golf team.
• Devin Knott, 18, is an Eagle Level participant and junior coach at the chapter. Knott currently works at Bayou Oaks Golf Course and his father is a First Tee coach.
• Sweden Ledet, 16, is a junior coach at the chapter. Ledet currently plays on her local high school golf team.
“The Zurich Classic Pro-Am was such a cool experience and words cannot express how much fun I had,” said Ledet. “It was so cool to be able to walk in the ropes and play amongst the professionals. It was an amazing day and I had a blast learning and watching the pros up close!”
“It is the coolest opportunity that I have ever had in my life, and I was so excited to participate in it. I never would have thought this would have ever happened,” said Biehl. “I cannot thank my First Tee coaches enough for this once-in-a lifetime opportunity.”
Without First Tee – Greater New Orleans, the students may not be who they are today, or have had the opportunity to play with players like Varner IIII and Grace.
“I think that First Tee isn't just a class, it's an opportunity for people to not only learn golf starting at a young age, but also to build proper etiquette and respect for themselves and others,” said Knott.
“I enjoy being a First Tee participant because it has allowed me to meet new people and open up. I used to be shy, but now I am now more confident in my abilities to introduce myself and to talk to new people. I think that playing in the Zurich Classic Pro-Am is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that allowed me to test my skills and abilities alongside players who have made it to the PGA TOUR.”
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for First Tee – Greater New Orleans participants, thanks to their friends at Zurich.
“Each year, we look at every aspect of the Zurich Classic to see how we can increase engagement, especially for the kids who benefit from much of the proceeds from the tournament, including the First Tee – New Orleans,” said Nolan. “We are especially proud to continue our work in this regard at a time like this when the community has been hit the hardest.”