From a Blank Canvas to a One-of-a-Kind Clubhouse

Academy artists, designers and golfers team up to create a space for school children in Golden Gate Park with The First Tee


Mural by Olympia Altimir-Gálvez.

Students and faculty from the Schools of Fine Art and Interior Architecture & Design at Academy of Art University and the ART U men’s and women’s golf teams recently collaborated with the city of San Francisco and the Recreation and Parks Department, among others, to bring to life a haven for local school children at the Golden Gate Park Golf Course. The project is a one-of-a-kind container clubhouse for students who take part in The First Tee of San Francisco. The First Tee is an internationally respected youth organization that promotes life skills and leadership through the game of golf. 

The container clubhouse officially opened on Friday, June 19 with a reception at the Golden Gate Park Golf Course, where those who donated their time and talent received a big thank you at the event from Dan Burke, executive director of The First Tee SF. Attendees included The First Tee SF students and staff, staff members from the city of San Francisco, the Recreation and Parks Department, The Olympic Club Foundation, as well as Academy students and faculty who designed the interior of the clubhouse. 

“I thought who can we partner with in this great city that can help take this blank canvas and do something very cool? And not only cool but functional,” said Burke. “We thought it was a natural fit to go to the Academy of Art University, which is a great institution in San Francisco, via their golf teams, which we had relationships with. They just jumped at the chance to impart their skills on something such as this project.”

Burke met with Andrew Moren and Elaine Harris, the Academy’s golf coaches, who were able to put him in touch with artists eager to take a blank canvas, such as a shipping container, and make it comfortable and inspiring on the inside for San Francisco students. 



The First Tee SF. Photo by Kathleen Wong.

“They listened to what our staff thought might be a great vision and they ran with it,” said Burke. “And what you see inside is very cool, it reflects our kids and we’re very thankful to you for everything you did.”

Students Jake Bliss, Sarah Peterson and Dat Do worked together to create a design that inspires creativity in the 7-foot-by-40-foot space. Inside you’ll see blue and green geometric shaped floor tiles and above an alternating chevron pattern, as well as a white board for students to draw on. 

“When we started, there was nothing in here but just a blank canvas,” said Peterson, who graduates in 2017. “My favorite part was when we sat down and were picking out color samples and compared them to the floor samples we had. It just felt like the real design experience, and I just got an internship recently and that’s what they do, and I had never experienced that in real life. So it was kind of fun to do the real thing.”

The Academy golf teams also volunteered their time to build out the inside of the clubhouse, which includes desks and chairs, a lounge area where students can relax or do their homework on tablets donated from Microsoft, along with learning the nine core values that are the life skills curriculum of The First Tee. The nine core values are beautifully hand-lettered in a rich orange along the walls by fine art student Natalie Anne Gabriel and include: Honesty, Integrity, Sportsmanship, Respect, Confidence, Responsibility, Perseverance, Courtesy and Judgement.


Photo Jun 19, 4 17 04 PM

Natalie Gabriel in front of the nine core values of The First Tee’s life skills curriculum. Photo by Carol Nunnelly.

Photo Jun 19, 4 16 01 PM

Olympia Altimir-Gálvez. Photo by Carol Nunnelly.

“I think this is a place that kids can just come and hang out before or after they play golf,” said Kay Cockerill, a commentator for the Golf Channel and long-time board member of First Tee SF, also two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur Champion. “And it’s also an area where they can have specific classroom time and tutoring. Tutoring is a big part of The First Tee program.”

Centered on the clubhouse wall is a striking mural done by Academy student Olympia Altimir-Gálvez, who is from Barcelona, Spain. 

“The mural is a phenomenal piece that reflects who we are, the diversity of the group that we try to impact in the city and the beauty of the city of San Francisco,” said Burke. “I think that was just a perfect touch for inside the clubhouse.”

“I really like the design process, because when you’re doing fine arts it’s all about you and trying to express yourself and your emotions,” said Altimir-Gálvez. “So it let me think about what these kids would like. Bright colors, the water. It’s really out of my style.” 

When they first started kicking around the idea of a clubhouse for kids in Golden Gate Park, The First Tee and collaborators came up with the idea of a container because of its safety and that the contents inside would be well protected overnight, but also it’s functionality. 

“Containers are in, they’re so hip right now,” said Cockerill. “For kids to have such a hip, cool, artsy space, I can’t even imagine having that. I think it’s really neat.”



Inside The First Tee SF container clubhouse. Photo by Kathleen Wong.

The First Tee will be able to increase it’s reach to about 900 additional kids with the new clubhouse and the partnership with the Golden Gate Park Golf Course. 

“Currently we see about 10,000 kids a year,” said Taylor White, program director for The First Tee. “We’re in every single elementary school in San Francisco Unified. So we’re the only partner with the PE department, and we’re the only program [with] teachers that are trained to do the golf and life skills curriculum.”

The First Tee facilities include Harding Park Golf Course, Visitation Valley Middle School and now Golden Gate Park Golf Course, which will be the third site and will partner with schools in the Richmond and Sunset districts.

“It’s a killer project,” said White. “And what’s really unique is we’re the only partner with SF Unified. We’re literally the only organization that has the ability to pull kids out of school and take them on field trips.”

The idea is that kids would be in the clubhouse for about 20 minutes working on one of the core values of the day, 15-20 minutes on the putting green and then coaches will take a handful of kids each week out on the course to play a couple of holes. From there, kids have an opportunity to join The First Tee after school programs or summer programs, which will include tutoring, free access to range balls and they can go out and play the golf course for a dollar.

“It’s going to be very impactful for the kids in those public schools,” said Burke. “And I can just picture kids getting on that Fulton line in the summer, coming here and making this their home, learning about golf, learning the values it creates and being part of the fabric here at this whole facility.”


(L–R) Carol Nunnelly, Natalie Gabriel, Olympia Altimir-Gálvez, Sarah Peterson and Susan Toland. Photo by Kathleen Wong.


Kay Cockerill of the Golf Channel and Olympia Altimir-Gálvez. Photo by Kathleen Wong.


Olympia Altimir-Gálvez. Photo by Bob Toy.