Golf may conjure visions of upper-class white men in polos and plaids on fields of green. That is a stereotype Christian Sarran, past program director of First Tee — Greater Tyler, wants to dispel.
Sarran said First Tee, a nonprofit that teaches golf to children ages 5-18, works to broaden golf as more than an expensive, inaccessible sport. “That is just not the case,” Sarran said. “There are many public courses and resources available for everyone to play.”
Life lessons are at the heart of First Tee’s mission, he said.
“The parallels between golf and life are what make First Tee so special. Some days are great and others not so much. On the course, just as in life, some bounces go our way and sometimes the bounces are unlucky,” he said.
Sarran’s father introduced him to golf at the age of nine and was “hooked … playing junior tournaments in the East Texas area” within a couple of months.
In 2011, First Tee’s Tyler chapter began. Sarran, who recently had completed graduate studies in counseling, found leadership at First Tee — Greater Tyler a way to combine his training and love of golf.
Sarran said life lessons in each First Tee — Greater Tyler class include interpersonal skills, emotional management, goal setting, conflict resolution and resiliency skills.
A game of Tic Tac Toe, for example, can be used as a lesson in using good judgment.
“Participants have to make decisions for which square to putt to, based on strategy,” Sarran said.“Trained coaches are teaching the skill of putting while also emphasizing the importance of using good judgment and creating discussion of how they may use that in other areas of their life.”
First Tee — Greater Tyler offers programming at three main locations: Woldert Park in north Tyler; and Oak Hurst and Emerald Bay clubs in Bullard.
Golf as “the perfect balance”
First Tee — Greater Tyler board member Octavio Tellez first fell in love with the sport through his children. Tellez didn’t grow up on golf courses. His initiation into golfing began after moving to the United States from Mexico City in 2008.
Working in the supply chain business in Troup, Texas, Tellez said his co-workers’ love of golf stoked his curiosity.
“I saw that these guys were playing golf every Friday. They would have the perfect balance: the family time on the weekends, work at the beginning of the week. But Friday, it was a time for the guys, and even the younger or not-so-young kids were part of that. So I thought that was cool,” he said.
Tellez’s son became interested in the sport around age seven. His coach in Arlington recommended finding a local chapter of First Tee.
“So, this is a wonderful organization … it was life skill classes through the game of golf and with golf professionals as coaches,” Tellez said.
He said core values like responsibility, honesty, respect and judgement are taught during golf practice at First Tee — Greater Tyler. “The game of golf is you against you. There’s a lot of opportunity for cheating … but that’s like a big no-no, because nobody’s watching you,” he explained.
Golf accessories create an opportunity
Tellez, who now has two children in First Tee — Greater Tyler, noticed the sport can come with lots of accoutrements. He put his entrepreneurial skills to good use and created Muuk Golf, a customizable leather golf accessories company.
“I was looking for a [golf club] cover for my son for his birthday. And I looked online and I found one really nice, leather made,” he said.
Thereafter, Tellez had an idea. “This would be a great business. And especially [since] I am from Mexico; Mexico has a huge leather industry.”
Tellez discovered his friends and contacts in Mexico were eager for business, having taken a financial hit during COVID’s first wave. Tellez got to work investing in materials, finding an embroidery company, getting samples and setting up a web store for golf club head covers.
After approving the final prototypes embroidered in leather, Tellez was ready to advertise his product. “The first thing I did is I put them on my kids’ golf clubs and took them to tournaments. And you see the parents and the kids looking at them,” Tellez said.
After securing legal arrangements for his web store, Tellez’ company went live. Business began picking up on Muuk Golf’s Instagram page. Then, the City of Tyler became a host for East Texas-themed covers.
“We were able to launch on July 1st, 2021. The first big interest was the Visit Tyler office. They now have a stock of Tyler and Texas-themed head covers,” Tellez said.
Tellez offers his golf club covers for sale at Oak Hurst Golf Course and Pine Springs Golf Club, with dreams for a presence at every golf course and pro shop in the Tyler area.
Muuk Golf offers the option to personalize golf head covers for drivers, fairways, hybrids and putters. Their customizations include an exclusive design by Tyler artist Dace Kidd.
When imagining what design can be on a golf cover, Tellez said, “The sky’s the limit.”
Aside from his new business, Tellez is hooked on golf.
“I really hope that people get to play more golf.” he said. “It’s a game that I can play with [my kids] as I age, because I see people in their late 70s, early 80s still playing golf with their sons or daughters and their grandkids. You see the three generations on the courses.”
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