By Bruce Berlet
HARTFORD, Conn. – When Mark Moriarty was named executive director of The First Tee of Connecticut 20 months ago, he had mighty big shoes to fill.
Bruce Wilson had been president and chief executive officer since TFTCT’s modest origins in 1999 as the The First Tee of Hartford at Goodwin Park Golf Course until March 2010, when David Polk took over as the head of the youth development organization whose mission is to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through golf.
Well, Moriarty has done just fine so far, thank you, with lots of help from a hard-working staff of eight full-time, one part-time and three seasonal (summer interns and camp director) personnel. He has increased sponsorships that have reached almost $800,000 from more than 1,000 unique donors, including local foundations, corporations and individuals, as well as support from the Travelers Championship, Connecticut Section PGA and Connecticut State Golf Association. TFTCT has increased from approximately 100 youngsters to 49,800 under Wilson to nearly 70,000 under Polk and Moriarty, who now is involved with 20 sites and 160 schools statewide. The national First Tee began in 1997 and is headquartered in St. Augustine, Fla., with programs in all 50 United States and select international locations.
Thanks to his steadfast leadership, Moriarty was named one of the 40 Under Forty Awards honorees by the Hartford Business Journal. Anyone in the community can be nominated, and Moriarty was submitted by Christy Miller, TFTCT’s director of development, and Gary and Mim Reynolds, longtime contributors to the Connecticut Section PGA and his former boss and current TFTCT board of director members.
“I nominated Mark because I’ve never met someone who loves the game of golf and what he does for the kids as much as he does,” Miller said. “He embodies everything we teach our kids at The First Tee of Connecticut.”
Moriarty, 36, has been with TFTCT since March 2011, when he joined the organization as a program director under Polk, who retired as executive director on Jan. 1, 2018. A native of Waterbury, Moriarty’s entire working career has been in the Greater Hartford community after he graduated from Central Connecticut State University in 2005 with a bachelors’ degree in history.
As executive director, Moriarty works with TFTCT’s board of directors on strategic planning and community relations and helps convey the program’s inherently positive nine core values through the game in the David and Geri Epstein Learning Center adjacent the practice facility at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, home of the Travelers Championship. TFTCT is one of only two complexes in the country to have a practice facility, learning center and mini-training course (Karl Krapek four-hole course) in the same location. And in June, during a patrons’ breakfast to celebrate TFTCT’s 20thanniversary the morning of the third round of the Travelers Championship, a plaque was unveiled in the center recognizing individuals who have donated memorial gifts through the years.
“The award is really quite an honor for me,” Moriarty said. “I’m proud to be a part of the group and proud of the work we are doing at The First Tee of Connecticut – not nearly all my doing – that allowed me to be considered. Mostly, I am excited to be part of the group in general. Having met most of the rest of the Class of 2019 at a photo shoot (at Dunkin Donuts Park in Hartford), I am inspired by the incredible work being done in the community.”
Moriarty lives in Bristol with his wife, Kim, a second-grade teacher in Wolcott, and two daughters, Julia, 9, and Kallie, 5. Julia is an active participant in TFTCT, and Mark hopes Kallie will pick up the game in the near future.
Moriarty said he’s most proud of the many relationships that he has developed throughout his career in the Greater Hartford community because they have helped increase visibility for TFTCT the last several years through 50 community organizations, being in 162 schools and in partnership with local youth service agencies. TFTCT stresses the nine core values of confidence, courtesy, honesty, integrity, judgment, perseverance, respect, responsibility and sportsmanship, and parents are encouraged to reinforce these behaviors by talking about them, what they mean and what they can look like at home.
“My favorite part of the job is The First Tee of Connecticut is getting to interact with our teenage participants and alumni who really are the proof that what we do is worthwhile,” Moriarty said. “Young people who come out of our program after multiple years of participation seem to be more confident, demonstrate better judgment and be such great all-around kids that it makes me proud of the organization that I represent.”
The national First Tee began in 1997 as a partnership among the Masters, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, PGA of America and United States Golf Association to try to get more kids to play golf. It started as a way to bring an affordable junior golf program to youth and communities that did not have them. The First Tee soon discovered by blending the rules of the game with life and leadership skills, kids and teens didn’t just learn how to play golf, they were learning important values.
The First Tee of Hartford began 22 years ago with the same basic goals as the Connecticut Golf Foundation, a 501 © (3) organization whose creation’s driving force was the Connecticut State Golf Association. Recognizing the need to maximize the effectiveness of both programs, the Connecticut Golf Foundation formally merged operations with The First Tee of Hartford in May of 2004. The boards and staff of the two organizations combined into a single organization publicly named The First Tee of Connecticut.
TFTCT has four main learning facilities at TPC River Highlands, Alling Memorial GC in New Haven, Prospect Driving Range and Fairchild Wheeler GC in Bridgeport. Others are located in Hartford, East Hartford, Waterbury, Danbury, Stamford/Norwalk, Pawcatuck/New London, Madison and Woodstock. Moriarty’s current interaction focuses on being involved with TFTCT’s Scholarship Committee, which awarded 30 scholarships totaling $37,000 this year.
Besides TFTCT, Moriarty is a volunteer for United Way Read Across America, the Travelers Championship and his children’s school, a member of the Connecticut Section PGA board of directors and a committee member of the PGA of America Girls and Boys Junior Championships that were played this summer at Keney Park Golf Course in Hartford. Other things that Moriarty likes outside of work include spending time with his family and extended family, playing golf as often as possible with friends of all ages and looking forward to many future rounds with his daughters.
Moriarty, whose favorite superhero is Superman and his father, Mark, said the four reasons he felt he deserved to be a 40 Under Forty selection are having served as only the third executive director in the 20-year history of TFTCT, helping drastically increase participation in the program, being recognized as one of only three First Tee Coaches in Connecticut and fewer than 400 across the country and being responsible for chapter operations in communities across the state, including Hartford, Cromwell, New Haven, Waterbury, Danbury, Bridgeport and Greenwich.
“I have a long way until retirement age, so it’s hard to see that far down the road,” Moriarty said. “But I can see myself doing this for many more years to come. There will always be plenty of young people for us to reach out to, so the job security is certainly there.”
Ironically, David Polk is connected with two of the Under Forty Award winners. He hired Moriarty, and his son, Tyler, is also part of the Class of 2019 and has two children who have been involved with TFTCT. Tyler, 38, is a partner and senior consultant at Fiduciary Investment Advisors in Windsor who advises more than $4 billion of defined contribution assets (401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) plans) with clients that range from large national corporations and nonprofits to local hospitals, universities, private schools and municipalities.
Tyler Polk, who lives in West Hartford and has a bachelor’s degree from Williams College, has been with the company for eight years and employs a holistic approach to help plan sponsors manage their fiduciary responsibilities while never losing sight of the primary purpose of the retirement plan, which is to help employees achieve successful outcomes for retirement readiness.
“It’s one of the greatest thrills of my life to be associated with two such fine men,” David Polk said. “I couldn’t be prouder of all that Mark has done for The First Tee since I hired him (in 2011), and obviously I’m extremely proud of my son for all that he has accomplished. They’re both terrific people who have the right values.”
Three independent judges – Wilson Camelo (Camelo Communication), Julie Daly Meehan (MetroHartford Alliance) and Tara Costanzo (Costanzo Clothing) – reviewed 178 nominations before making their 40 Under Forty selections, who join 920 past winners. The Class of 2019 will be honored Sept. 26 from 5 to 9 p.m. at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. They were recognized in a special issue of Hartford Business Journal published Aug. 5.