Learning About God in Golf

The golf course is where Tyler Smies, a 2010 Calvin College graduate, feels at home.

As a high school senior, Smies simply wanted a college where he could earn a well-respected degree, grow in his faith—and make the golf team. Calvin fit all three.

“I graduated from high school with no real direction on a vocation or a degree,” he admitted. “Since then, I’ve been blessed to be a part of seven years with Calvin’s golf program: four years as a student letter-winner and the past three as an assistant coach. It’s been an amazing experience.”

Smies has transitioned his love of the sport into a full-time career. As executive director of a small nonprofit, The First Tee of West Michigan, he leads a team that teaches children and teens life skills, core values, and healthy habits through the game of golf. Since establishing the West Michigan chapter in 2011, the organization has reached more than 400 young people.

So how did Smies go from directionless high school grad to nonprofit leader? Turns out, his three criteria for college fit together pretty well.

“My faith before going to Calvin hadn’t affected my behavior or changed my heart; it was based on information and facts,” he said. “I could kick some butt in Bible trivia . . . but [faith] didn’t affect my daily life. I relied heavily on people at Calvin like Brian Bolt, the head golf coach, for guidance and encouragement, and they helped me shift into a ‘walk the talk’ faith in Christ.”

The opportunities provided through Smies’s business major brought his future into focus.

“I interned at two different nonprofits during my senior year, and I knew that was where God was calling me,” he said. “When the opportunity arose to start a nonprofit that helps young people through golf, I grabbed it and ran.”

Now Smies has the chance to model Christ’s love to young people in the same way that he was mentored at Calvin.

“It’s been a fantastic ride, and God has really blessed the organization and the impact it is having. I have an opportunity to advance his kingdom here through his little ones every single day,” he said. “The First Tee is really relationship-building with kids at its core—we just happen to do it around the game of golf.”

About the Author

Beth Heinen Bell, a former Banner intern, is a freelance writer and photographer working throughout West Michigan, and an activities coordinator for senior citizens in Grand Rapids.

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