Tiger Woods remains in the media spotlight, whether it is for winning his 76th PGA Title and first World Golf Championships event since 2009 on March 10, or spending time in February playing golf with President Obama. Despite the highs and lows of his career, his most positive and lasting legacy may be the new generations of young people that he inspired to get into the sport. Some of those youngsters were represented on Saturday, March 16 at the Ultimate Golf Fest ’13 held in Phoenix.
The First Tee of Phoenix hosted the free event. The First Tee was a program started on the East Coast to encourage inner city kids to learn golf soon after Woods became a professional, and the popularity of the sport boomed. In 1998, I, who was then a Federal executive and had worked with the program in Washington, DC, introduced the concept to The Thunderbirds, a community organization in Arizona, which ultimately became the sponsor of the program in Phoenix.
The First Tee of Phoenix is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, whose mission is “providing affordable access to golf and golf learning facilities for young people in Maricopa County from all walks of life, particularly those who, otherwise, might not have an opportunity to play.” Hugh Smith Jr., who grew up playing and caddying golf in Pebble Beach, is the Executive Director of the organization He has overseen the expansion of the program, which now includes seven courses throughout the Valley.
The Ultimate Golf Fest ’13 was held at the First Tee of Phoenix at South Mountain, which was designed by Tom Fazio in 2001, and consists of nine par 3 holes. The event included a demo session, trick shot show, a clinic, free lunch, inflatables for kids, an equipment sale, and, of course, golf. There were also educational exhibits from First Tee’s partners and sponsors.
“Our mission is broader than simply teaching young people how to play golf,” says Smith. “ We also teach youth life skills. This event gives us an opportunity to expose the community, not just to the sport, but to our many programs to develop strong character in youth.”
Whatever championships Woods wins or records he sets or does not, his most important contribution may have been demonstrating to underprivileged youth that no sport or achievement in life should be off-limits to anyone with talent and commitment.