Golf: Dallas-based Tan sisters' careers tee off with the aid of First Tee

(From left) Miyoko Tan, Janane Tan and Belle Tan at the Hackberry Creek Country Club on May 13, 2021.
(From left) Miyoko Tan, Janane Tan and Belle Tan at the Hackberry Creek Country Club on May 13, 2021.PHOTO: DORIS TAN

SINGAPORE - The world's best male golfers have converged on TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Dallas for the AT&T Byron Nelson tournament ending on Sunday (May 16). More than 10 of the world's top 30 golfers are there, including the likes of Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, as well as hometown hero Jordan Spieth.

Yet, the famed golf course is not an unfamiliar sight for the Tan sisters of Singapore.

Dallas-based Belle, 23, Janane, 21, and Miyoko Tan, 17, have had the chance to play at TPC Craig Ranch multiple times, through the First Tee Greater Dallas programme.

The sisters can also count Pebble Beach, Poppy Hills, and TPC Sawgrass as some of the other world-renowned golf courses that they have had the opportunity to play on, making them the envy of golf enthusiasts everywhere.

First Tee is a non-profit organisation aimed at providing accessible golf programmes for the community and empowering young people with life skills and character development through the sport. Its network extends across all 50 states in America as well as Japan, South Korea and Australia.

In fact, the Tan sisters' journey with First Tee began back in Singapore. The Dallas-based family had moved back to Singapore in 2006, due to their father's job as an avionics specialist in the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

While attending Naval Base Primary School, Belle and Janane played golf as a co-curricular activity, having previously taken golf lessons at a local club back in the US.

Belle, 23, a 2.8 handicapper who is pursuing a Masters in accountancy at the University of Texas at Dallas, recounted: "We would take a bus to school every morning while carrying our golf clubs and people would look at us, because they were literally the size of us."

It was a teammate from their CCA who introduced them to First Tee Singapore.

When their father had to move back to Dallas for work in 2008, the family relocated again and the sisters continued their golf development at First Tee Greater Dallas, with Miyoko following in her sisters' footsteps soon after.

While they showed promise and they wanted to play college golf, the journey was an arduous one, with finances posing a major challenge.

Belle said: "It was always known to us that we should all strive to get a golf scholarship for college because my parents couldn't really afford to pay for our college education."

Another challenge was the high cost of playing in important golf tournaments.

Janane, a junior who plays for the University of Texas at Arlington women's team and who dreams of turning pro, pointed out: "The issue is that if you don't have the resources or money to afford playing in big tournaments, which will obviously give you more exposure but would also cost more... The American Junior Golf Association has one such tournament where most junior golfers would play in and the costs of flights, hotels, and tournament fees can really add up."

But thankfully, these concerns were alleviated by First Tee Greater Dallas, which offered them help and support in all facets of their journey.

Other than providing them with golf scholarships to help defray the costs of their college tuition fees, First Tee also offers them national opportunities, which include subsidising their entrance to golf tournaments for greater exposure as well as character development programmes like the Life Skills Academy.

The Tan sisters have also gained invaluable networking opportunities, getting to meet fellow juniors, golf coaches, as well as pro golfers like Spieth.

Speaking about the opportunity to play with Spieth, Janane said it was "very nerve-racking to meet someone who is so profound in the golf world", but felt inspired by him. "Being able to see how hard he works for his dreams pushes me to continue working towards my own dreams," the 21-year-old added.

Having been a long-time participant of the First Tee Greater Dallas programme, Miyoko has also been selected to be a part of the ClubLife Gateway programme, piloted by First Tee and ClubCorp, which owns TPC Craig Ranch. This gives her complimentary junior membership to the Hackberry Creek Country Club, providing her with access to a high-quality facility to train and gain mentorship in the form of club members.

Being one of two Singaporean families to have benefited from the First Tee Greater Dallas programme, the Tans are grateful for the opportunities afforded to them.

"My family isn't rich or anything. We have just been very fortunate with the First Tee. They have given us so many opportunities, like helping us gain access to golf courses and golf tournaments," added Belle, who used to represent the University of Arkansas Monticello's golf team.

And now, they are giving back to the community through the programme. Both Belle and Janane have interned with First Tee Greater Dallas as coaches for its summer programmes. Miyoko, who is working towards a collegiate golf career like her sisters, is an active junior coach and volunteer with First Tee.

Miyoko, a junior in Coppell High School, said: "After trying it out, I was like, 'Oh wow' this is really fun just teaching kids in general... and it's not just teaching but we also play games with them and learn life skills while having fun so it's nice just giving back to the community."