Please Make a Gift to The First Tee Today!

Please Make a Gift to The First Tee Today!

Our fun fivesome at Brentwood!

Our fun fivesome at Brentwood!

While there are a few personal reasons to explain why I am embarking on this “Journey to Olympic Golf,” there are many reasons I want to raise $100,000 for The First Tee.

It’s cliché to say I want to give back some of which has been given to me but the reality is that golf continues to give me something each day. It has been six years now that I have started over pursuing a second career in golf and it has been a marvelous journey. The people I have met along the way and the experiences I have shared with them have been great. I see the same good things happening to me during this upcoming road trip to Rio de Janeiro.

In a way golf has always been my life even before I made my life golf. My earliest childhood memory when I was around three years old was hitting golf balls out of snow bunkers with my dad. It was in early spring near where I grew up in Binghamton, New York. I remember my older brother Larry giving me Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons book. More importantly he inscribed it with the following words—“golf is a lot like life, the more you learn and understand about the game, the easier it is to meet its challenge.” I guess I have taken these words to heart.

Ely Park Municipal Golf Course overlooking Binghamton, New York

Ely Park Municipal Golf Course overlooking Binghamton, New York

To me golf is exactly like life. You have good days and bad days. Some good days you know why they are a good day. Some bad days you don’t have a clue as to why it is a bad day. But you learn to deal with it and try to make every day a good day no matter what. Something makes you want to go on and eventually you enjoy the challenge. You get the fact that it is truly a privilege and an honor to be alive and that nothing is ever to be taken for granted.

I was fortunate that my father brought me into the game of golf at an early age. He came to the game out of necessity, being the son of a dirt poor coal miner. As a caddie at Scranton CC he learned some things that made him successful in life as a husband, a father, a city fireman and a competitive amateur golfer. He was someone who truly loved life. Most importantly he passed along his love of life and the game of golf to me. Times when we walked the fairways and played Ely Park Municipal Course were some of our best times together and some of the best times of my life.

I was lucky in life and that is where the First Tee comes into play. Everyone deserves to be as lucky as I was. Everyone deserves to be introduced to this great game of golf. I recently visited the First Tee of North Florida at their Brentwood facility. While there I had the chance to see firsthand how much more there is to the First Tee than golf. These kids are learning some great life skills, some of which have taken me a lifetime to learn.

Andy Reistetter with Matt Moscinski, Director of Programming at the First Tee of North Florida. Matching shirts a coincidence!

Andy Reistetter with Matt Moscinski, Director of Programming at the First Tee of North Florida. Matching shirts a coincidence!

To the credit of the coaches and program leaders, 100% of the Jacksonville area kids who have come through the First Tee graduate high school and not only have gone on to college but have done so with an academic or golf scholarship. The program is making a meaningful impact on young people and our communities. That is why I am asking you to make a gift to the First Tee. Please give what you can. Whether a few dollars or many dollars it will make a difference.

Attending the recent First Tee of North Florida “Taste of Golf” fundraiser at the Clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass impacted me greatly. Along with the HEAL Foundation event and last week’s Web.com Tour Championship I am completely convinced that golf is the greatest game ever and more so because of what happens outside the ropes. Let me share a few thoughts with you and then let you go to click away at your computer to make that First Tee donation.

Please Make a Gift to The First Tee Today!

Hosting the First Tee event during the Web.com tournament at the Clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass which is the home headquarters of the PGA TOUR had a special significance. Commissioner Finchem and President Bush No. 41 had kicked off the First Tee in New York City’s Central Park in November 1997. The First Tee was established through the World Golf Foundation and its founding members—the USGA, LPGA, Masters Tournament, PGA of America and the PGA TOUR.

Suzanne McCourt, the Lady Artist from Pebble Beach with Tabitha & Jim Furyk. Note the 'Little Girl in the Red Dress' painting.

Suzanne McCourt, the Lady Artist from Pebble Beach with Tabitha & Jim Furyk. Note the ‘Little Girl in the Red Dress’ painting.

While the First Tee Open was being played at Pebble Beach, the event at TPC Sawgrass was sort of a combined Sweet 16 birthday and coming out party. Like the young adult who comes home to thank the parents and grab the car keys, the First Tee is on its way to make an impact in the world. They have reached 7.6 million young people since 1976 and want to touch the lives of an addition 10 million kids by 2017. The First Tee has fully come of age.

Another realization that night was how much people in golf want to reach out to other people and do something good together. Sort of like that playing partner you met on the first tee that helps you find your ball in the woods. Then gives you just the right golf tip at the right time. Along the lines of “you might want to try doing this.” People in golf wan to meet you, network with you and rally around good charitable causes.

While at Pebble Beach for the 2012 Pro-Am I saw two women carrying a rather large painting of Tiger Woods into the Golf Links to the Past shop. I immediately became curious since that year marked Tiger’s first appearance there in 10 years. Well, one woman was, who I now refer to as “The Lady Artist from Pebble Beach,” Suzanne McCourt and the other women her manager Rohana Loschivo. They extended an invitation to lunch in the Stillwater Grill in the Lodge and the rest is history.

Pebble Beach Pro-Am Cover by Suzanne McCourt depicting champion golfer Tiger Woods and celebrating the 25th anniversary AT&T's sponsorship.

Pebble Beach Pro-Am Cover by Suzanne McCourt depicting champion golfer Tiger Woods and celebrating the 25th anniversary AT&T’s sponsorship.

Suzanne, the first woman artist to paint the cover of the program for the Pro-Am in 2010, has travelled eastward to Ponte Vedra Beach twice this year. In May, at the World Golf Hall of Fame Induction, she presented the Venturi family a painting of their at-the-time recently deceased father Ken. Her neo-realism-golf-artwork captured Venturi’s iconic U.S. Open win at Congressional and tells the story of his golfing career. Suzanne’s father, who died when she was 16 years old, was a contemporary of Venturi’s but stayed an amateur playing in Crosby Pro-Ams and The Masters. Golf, like life, is a vehicle for making connections where they mean the most.

The Clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass was transformed into an art gallery on the second floor and many local artists joined Suzanne in toasting the First Tee of North Florida fundraiser. Jen Jones, the force behind Jacksonville’s Unity Plaza, which will open in 2014, along with ‘Taste of Golf’ Chairwoman Milan Moore recruited Keith Doles, Ted Johnson, Robert Leedy, Peter Blunt, Randy Pitts, Gordon Meggison, Marilyn Antram, Paul Ladiner, Barbara Quigley, Heather Blanton, and Will Dickey, who painted the night away with ‘the little girl in the red dress’ just outside the VIP room.

Clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass was transformed into an art gallery for the 'Taste of Golf.'

Clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass was transformed into an art gallery for the ‘Taste of Golf.’

But remember the night was entitled “A Taste of Golf” and let me tell you that, this being the 8th annual, they have it dialed in, the food was awesome. The delicacies included Shrimp Scampi Dijonnaise (Executive Chef Gary McKinsey, Deerwood CC), Nabchego-Stuffed Duck Meatball (Executive Chef Kira Lewis, Hidden Hills CC), Salmon in Two Preparations (Executive Chef Jason Hall, Certified Master Chef, Hammock Dunes), Beer Braised Pork Cheeks (Executive Chef Michael Ramsay, Jacksonville Golf & CC), Jumbo Lump Crab Tamales (Executive Chef Jerry Snider, San Jose CC), Duroc Pork Belly & Sweet Pea Sea Scallop (Executive Chefs Dan Webber and Marvin McClelland, Sawgrass CC), Grilled Wagyu Beef (Executive Chef LJ Coussin, TPC Sawgrass), Sweet Potato Gnocchi (Executive Chef Brent Lynch, World Golf Village). For dessert there were a Trilogy of Truffles, Mint Meringue, Chocolate Crunch Macaron and a Chocolate Blood Orange Hazelnut Shooter (Executive Pastry Chef Caitlin Schneider-Frantz, Jacksonville Golf & CC and Chef Nils Rowland, Ponte Vedra Inn & Club).

While the festival night at the Clubhouse was memorable with a lot of dignities including Mr. & Mrs. ‘59’ Jim and Tabitha Furyk, Amanda Balionis and Cole Pepper what I remember is going out to Brentwood meeting some coaches and kids and playing nice holes on a good golf course. Sam Snead won the first two Jacksonville Opens, a PGA TOUR stop starting in 1945, on the same ground as the kids walk today though only the sixth hole remains from the original Donald Ross masterpiece. As good as the course is the kids are better.

Perhaps there are a couple misconceptions that I would like to clear up about the First Tee. First of all it is not only for the underprivileged or minorities. I think I passed most of the cars I saw in the packed full parking lot on the way to the course from the beach. I mean that passed me. In reality the First Tee goes on the road to suburban locations all the time. It is as diverse as our population.

Bridge over RR tracks at Brentwood golf course.

Bridge over RR tracks at Brentwood golf course.

The second thing you should know particularly about the Brentwood golf course is that it is open to the public. With grass practice tees, inexpensive green fees ($11 on holiday & weekends) and encouragement to walk it is an ideal golfing facility. I put it right up there with that little hidden gem at the UNF campus—the John Hyat Golfplex. Go see Brentwood’s PGA of America Golf Professional John Grzybek and go play!

I knew I was home the minute I pulled into the parking lot. There was lots of activity— parents dropping kids off, small groups of kids around the putting green and practice tee and golfers teeing off No. 1. I knew why it felt like home after teeing off with Coach Tony, Blair, Charles and Chase walking and playing the first hole.

To get to the second hole you walk up a bit of a rise past the 6th tee and cross over a set of RR tracks on a bridge. I took me home to Florence Street in Binghamton where it wasn’t so easy to cross the tracks separating the First Ward and the Westside. Sports and education integrated and lifted the community I grew up in. Same thing for the First Tee of North Florida. I paused on the bridge to consider which way the trains are going for these kids and quickly realized that they are going in any direction they so choose!

Please Make a Gift to The First Tee Today!

Thank You!!!

 

Note my baby M30 now has a First Tee license plate for our 'Journey to Olympic Golf.'

Note my baby M30 now has a First Tee license plate for our ‘Journey to Olympic Golf.’

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