Growing up, Marcus Miller heard golf was not the game for him. It was for rich white men. Not for people who looked like him. He even teased his high school buddy, Gary Woodland, about golf being what you play when you can’t play other sports. In truth, Miller was trying to get his friend to play those other sports with him.
Both friends went to Washburn University, where Miller played football. Of course, what happened to Woodland is now golfing history. Still, golf wasn’t done with Miller yet.
He worked at Topeka Country Club, where employees could play the course on Mondays. Miller remembers, “It’s a hard course, and I wasn’t very good. What it taught me was patience. I’m a way better man today, a better father and husband, because of the game of golf. It’s taught me always to understand the big picture and not make mountains out of molehills.”
Miller went on to work for the Boys and Girls Club and the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office. He also coached youth basketball. In April 2021, he accepted the executive director position at First Tee Topeka.
Backed by The PGA of America, First Tee is a youth development program that uses golf to teach life skills and character development, with the space to be themselves. The focus is on these key elements of Character Development, Adult Mentors, Personal Growth, and College Scholarships.
Miller explains, “We believe every kid deserves the chance to build inner strength before the world demands it. To find the joy with feeling confident in their own skin and access experiences and spaces where personal growth happens. We enable kids to build the strength of character that empowers them through a lifetime of new challenges. Yes, we want to introduce the game of golf to them, but it’s the life skills and the mentoring that’s more important to us.”
The Board of Directors and staff for the Topeka chapter of First Tee had an initial goal of reaching 75 kids in 2022, from ages 7-to 18. In the spring, 33 kids participated, which Miller feels is a good sign for the future. He also notes anyone interested in being a coach or mentor doesn’t need to be skilled at golf. It’s more about kids having fun and teaching them how to conduct themselves, talk to people, and face obstacles.
Miller admits, “I wouldn’t even consider myself a golfer. I’m, at best, a bogey player. Most likely a double-bogey player every single hole. When you’re talking to 7, 8, and 9-year-olds, it’s not important to get too technical about it.”
What does his work at First Tee give to Miller?
He says, “When my time is over on this earth, I want my wife and kids to hear from others what I meant to them, in the sense of their development and how I may have helped them when times were tough. I want my kids to know if you want to affect the community, you have to care more about them than yourself. I want them to know that their father cared. Not just loved them, but loved all children and all families to help develop their children in a way that they can be proud of.”