Four side-by-side photos show the First Tee Entrepreneurs Program participants
Four side-by-side photos show the First Tee Entrepreneurs Program participants
Diversity & Inclusion
May 2, 2022

First Tee Entrepreneurs Program: Meet the entrepreneurs

Wells Fargo is sponsoring the inaugural program at the 2022 Wells Fargo Championship in Washington, D.C.

For 25 years, First Tee has used golf to teach lessons about life, providing affordable and accessible programs for youth of all ages and backgrounds. Through active learning experiences, digital activities, and on-the-course instruction, First Tee empowers kids and teens to build inner strength, self-confidence, and resilience that they can carry to everything they do.

For a decade, Wells Fargo has been a proud supporter of First Tee. From 2012 to 2021, through the Wells Fargo Succeeding Together contest, thousands of First Tee participants submitted essays detailing what First Tee has meant to them, showing its positive impact across the country. Each year, one winner was selected to play in the Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am with a PGA Tour golfer.

This year, Wells Fargo and First Tee are expanding their relationship by debuting the First Tee Future Entrepreneurs program. Available to First Tee alums who attended or graduated from historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, the program will provide mentorship and networking opportunities for participants interested in business or entrepreneurship, as well as a spot in the Pro-Am with a PGA Tour golfer.

The inaugural selectees of the program, Jakari Harris from Hampton University, Lennard Long from Morehouse College, and Elijah Royal and Joia Robertson, both from Fisk University, were selected by a national panel, and submitted an essay application focused on their future aspirations for their careers, golf, and life.

These are their stories.

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Meet Jakari Harris, a Hampton University graduate living in Atlanta

The relationship Jakari Harris has with golf with is simple.

She loves it — and she hates it.

The love started in elementary school when Harris’ father got her involved with a golf academy in Atlanta. While mingling with other parents at the academy, he heard of a well-respected program that not only taught young kids how to play golf, but also provided life skills and social activities.

It was the First Tee — Metro Atlanta. Harris attended school just yards away from Charlie Yates Golf Course, home of First Tee of Eastlake in Atlanta, so it was easy for Harris to pour herself into golf.

Those afternoons at Yates, when the Georgia sun beamed brightest, are where the hate comes in.

“In the beginning, I was really hard on myself,” she said. “If I started off a hole bad, that would dictate my play for the rest of the round. But I just saw golf as mentally and physically challenging. Playing it kind of helped set me apart from other kids.”

As much as she enjoys the physical part of golf, a different aspect of it appealed to Harris most. She considers herself a “STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) person at heart.” Growing up, she and her siblings spent time at summer camps that introduced them to disciplines like advanced math, technology, chemistry, and medicine.

“The game is so challenging and humbling,” she said. “I’m a problem-solver, and no one shot is the same.”

Today, Harris is pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at both Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University. The lessons learned with First Tee have inspired her future plans.

“When I think about what kind of impact I want to make in the world, giving back to my community always comes to mind,” she says. “First Tee has poured so much into me, and I wouldn't be where I am without it. I know for sure that teaching is my passion. Mentorship is so important to me. I want to be a professor at an HBCU and just have an impact on younger people’s lives.”

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Meet Lennard Long, a Morehouse College graduate living in Washington, D.C.

The life lessons learned from golf, Lennard Long said, are too many to list. But he tries anyway.

Confidence. Responsibility. Perseverance.

When his high school cut golf following his freshman season, the only way for him to compete regularly was to travel four times a week from Washington, D.C., to Maryland for tournaments.

“That was a hard ask for my parents,” he said. “It was a lot for all of us, and they moved mountains for me.”

For the first 12 years of Long’s life, he was dedicated to basketball until he decided to try something new — golf. His learning curve was steep — kids his age had been playing for five or six years, while Long didn’t understand the game’s basics.

“My first time on the course it was me and my dad,” Long said. “We didn’t know anything. We bought a tee time, but didn’t know you needed balls, bags, clubs, and all that. We were completely lost. I’m looking at him for direction, and he’s looking at me.”

Soon thereafter, Long’s father found First Tee and signed his son up. As Long became more experienced on the course, he decided to dedicate himself to becoming a collegiate golfer. But he didn’t think he was prepared to play in college and wondered if he charted the wrong course all those years ago.

He reminded himself, as he learned at First Tee, to always be confident.

“You deserve to be here, that’s what I told myself,” he said.

Today, he works as the program and communications manager at First Tee – Greater Washington, D.C. This summer, he’ll start an MBA program at Georgetown University. He knows his future is tied to the intersection of sports and community service.

“I see myself bridging the gap between the Black community and golf,” he said. “[Golf has] been a space for networking and, unfortunately, without being included, Black people miss some of those opportunities. I want to help us be in the room and have a voice at the table.”

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Meet Elijah Royal, a Fisk University graduate living in Lake County, Indiana.

Forty-two miles southeast of Chicago, near the banks of Lake Michigan, sits Merrillville, Indiana.

It’s a great area, Elijah Royal said, to venture outdoors. There are dozens of public parks, trails, and what he calls “hidden lakes.”

A passion for the outdoors is how Royal found the sport he loves.

“Golf, for me, has always been a good way to have a good time,” he said. “It’s never gotten to the point where it was overbearing, because you’re outside in the fresh weather, having fun. I’ve used it as a sport to bond with my father, family, and friends.”

A man is on the green of a golf course getting ready to hit a ball
First Tee Entrepreneur Elijah Royal's passion for the outdoors led him to the sport he loves.

As nice as northwest Indiana summers might be, the winters are equally brutal. One January day about five years ago, a telecommunications company employee performing maintenance at Lost Marsh Golf Course, home of the First Tee — Lake County, was confused. Snow was falling and the golf course was empty, except for a young man playing a round by himself.

“He had all his winter gear on, and I was in my golf clothes,” Royal said. “He just looked at me like something was wrong and said, ‘You’re crazy.’ I told him I couldn’t waste any time. I had to get back to it.”

Royal started with First Tee in 7th grade and quickly realized he could play in college, or at a higher level. The realization likely wouldn’t have come without the confidence instilled in him by one of his coaches, First Tee — Lake County program director Brandon White.

“He really pushed me into not giving up a lot of times,” said Royal. “If there was a drive or putt where I didn’t do well, he would just encourage me to persevere. First Tee taught me integrity, perseverance, having good judgment, and the wisdom to know things aren’t always as they seem.”

Royal excelled on his high school golf team and eventually earned a scholarship to play at Fisk University, a historically Black university in Nashville, Tennessee.

He now serves as a program coordinator for First Tee — Lake County.

“What the program has done for me, I wanted to be able to somehow be involved and help others do the same,” he said. “First Tee helped me forge relationships beyond the golf course. Why not do that for someone else?”

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Meet Joia Robertson, a freshman at Fisk University living in Nashville, Tennessee

Heading into the Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am and the inaugural First Tee Future Entrepreneurs program, Joia Robertson has no expectations.

That’s not because she feels the events won’t be valuable. Instead of a detailed checklist with actionable items, she’s choosing to let the experiences happen and only then take stock of what was learned and who was met.

Having an open mind, foregoing comfort zones, and living in the moment have proven fruitful for Robertson, who recently completed her first year of college. It’s actually how she ended up at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.

A woman stands on a golf course, ready to hit a ball.
Early on, Joia Robertson saw golf as a key to unlock lots of opportunities for herself.

Robertson’s college plan included a consideration of Stanford University. There, she’d take a pre-med track before heading to medical school after graduation.

“Playing college golf, that was not a part of the plan,” she said.

For some time, Fisk golf coach Robert Moore pursued Robertson, hoping to make her the centerpiece of his recruiting class. And for some time, she rebuffed his efforts.

And then, with a little thought and not much warning, clarity arrived.

“It was a spontaneous thing,” Robertson said. “I didn’t really hesitate when I picked Fisk, and just went with it. Diving into what an HBCU has to offer was important to me.”

College-aged Robertson had the confidence to make tough decisions her adolescent version didn’t. She gives credit for much of that maturation to the First Tee — Tennessee.

“It (golf) was a gift I didn’t know I had,” she said. “My mom would tell me it’s fun and a hobby, but also I recognized it’s a key to business as well. I saw it could unlock a lot of opportunities for me.”

Perseverance is a character strength First Tee empowers its participants to develop from their first session to their last.

“One must be dedicated in order to improve and grow in the game,” she said. “You must persevere and understand that every game will not be your best game. Push through, never give up, and accept the good games as well as the bad games.”

First Tee’s belief in serving local communities has stuck with Robertson all these years later. And it is the catalyst for some of her post-college goals.

“One of my future aspirations is to start a nonprofit (organization) that helps children in disadvantaged areas get the access to education they need to succeed. I know it will take a person ready to step up to the plate (to achieve the aspiration), and I am preparing for it every day.”