Pax Haslem, who is the new executive director of the First Tee of Montana, is no stranger to Billings.
The 1989 graduate of Billings Senior grew up here and is running into familiar sights and faces as he takes charge of the 9-year-old First Tee program, which teaches local children core values, life skills and healthy habits through the game of golf.
"I've come home, and it has been a great welcoming," Haslem said.
First Tee, which has 4.7 million youngsters participating in 200 chapters nationwide, is open to boys and girls, ages 7 to 17, from all walks of life. A variety of instructional levels are offered.
"When I heard the First Tee of Montana was looking for an executive director, I got really excited about it because it's a program that I truly believed in without even being a part of it," Haslem said. "This is one avenue to introduce kids to positive role models."
The after-school clinics in Billings will begin next week at the Boys & Girls Club on Orchard Lane. The fund-raising First Tee Open Charity Tournament is set for May 18 at Lake Hills Golf Club, and the popular summer sessions will get under way on June 4 at Lake Hills and Exchange City Par 3.
"I'm ready to go," Haslem said. "I'm excited to be with the kids. Not too many people get to wear their golf shoes to work."
Registration is already under way for the summer schedule, with financial assistance available to families to help cover fees. Children of military personnel will receive a special scholarship, and the LPGA is also offering a scholarship for girls.
The 40-year-old Haslem, who spent a dozen years as a teacher and also coached baseball for several years, moved back to Billings from Ely, Nev., in October. A single father to daughters Hannah, 9, and Clara, 6, he started his job with the First Tee in December, replacing longtime executive director Doug Grotz.
"You need to come back and give back to your community. That's a responsibility that everybody has," Haslem said. "I'm very fortunate and very blessed to be able to do that."
Haslem's responsibilities with the non-profit organization include fund raising, programming and administration.
He said he came into "a pretty good situation" with the well-established local First Tee program, which is also bolstered by a 15-member board of directors.
"A lot of what I've done is just kind of reorganize and restructure some things," Haslem said. "They did take a parent survey last year, so I've read through a lot of those and kind of changed some things this year.
"We've shortened the summer program a little bit and put in some discounts."
A total of around 500 youngsters usually participate in the First Tee's after-school and summer sessions in Billings.
"We reach a lot more in our national schools program" in which a dozen Billings schools are involved, Haslem said.
Area golf courses and club professionals have offered their services during the spring and summer, along with the numerous other volunteers also helping to ensure the First Tee's success.
"One of the things that I love about this job is that it's about opening doors," Haslem said. "It's about creating opportunities for kids."
While a 7-year-old is introduced to golf, with an emphasis also placed on courtesy, respect, honesty and other core values, a 17-year-old will have a chance to attend a golf academy, secure scholarships and land an internship through the First Tee, Haslem said.
"It's more than just playing golf," he noted.
For more information on all of the different programs, call 850-9045 or go to www.thefirstteemontana.org
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The Billings area will be hosting three amateur golf tournaments of statewide interest this summer.
Laurel Golf Club will be the site for a 36-hole sectional qualifier for the U.S. Junior Amateur on Monday, June 25.
Boys ages 17 and under will be coming from across the state and country to compete for berths in the 65th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship July 16-21 at the Golf Club of New England in Stratham, N.H.
The Briarwood in Billings will be the course for the Montana State Golf Association's 72-hole State Amateur July 18-21, while Yellowstone Country Club, Laurel and Lake Hills will be putting on the 54-hole Montana State Senior Golf Association championship tournament Aug. 7-9.
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The Montana State Women's Golf Association State Amateur and Senior Amateur is scheduled to play its 54 holes July 17-19 at Whitefish Lake Golf Club.
The MSGA's 54-hole Men's Mid-Amateur is set for Aug. 8-10 at Missoula Country Club.
Riverside Country Club in Bozeman will host the MSGA's 36-hole State Junior Championships June 18-19.