To enable a young person to grow in character and community involvement is to teach a young man and woman to support their community in leadership and civic responsibility.
The First Tee of the Coachella Valley has a mission statement that echoes this sentiment — to impact the lives of young people by providing learning facilities and educational programs that promote character development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf. Through its programs, First Tee teaches the core values of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
The nationwide organization opened its office in the Coachella Valley in 2008. It provides after school and weekend programs, open to all children from all backgrounds and communities in the area, at the former Golf Center of Palm Desert. The facility has been renovated and upgraded to include classroom space and on-course teaching areas where the kids learn chipping, putting and driving as part of the life skills lessons taught to those who take part in the programs. The overall purpose of the program is to make the kids who participate in it better citizens who will step up to responsibility as they become young adults.
In order for First Tee to carry out its mission, it needs support from businesses in the Coachella Valley so they can work with the young people who join the programs. One of their major supporters is The Springs Country Club, in Rancho Mirage, which has donated over $100,000 in the past three years for First Tee through a benefit golf tournament that their members have rallied behind to support.
The involvement between the two businesses came about through an employee at First Tee, Reiji Kodama, whose family were members at The Springs Club. The partnership came about after conversations about what the possibilities might be for Springs Club to help First Tee.
Glenn Miller, Executive Director of The First Tee of the Coachella Valley, says The Springs Club is very special to them. “They are the first real country club to make a continued effort to raise funds for us on a continuing basis. It means a lot to the kids and a lot to their members because they enjoy the camaraderie and working together with the children. Their management staff is always very supportive in what they can do for us.”
Miller went on to note that many golf courses are experiencing a dwindling membership these days during the tough economy, adding that it is great that The Springs Club continue to support First Tee. “We are blessed to have a lot of good supporters of organizations and donations like we do. Without either one of those we couldn’t succeed. If they didn’t come to the forefront, we couldn’t be as successful as we’ve been. They are an example of how important the Country Clubs are to the Charity scene. Our hats are off to them, not just as supporters, but as our friends.”
Jim Freeman, President of the Board for The Springs Club, says “It’s been pretty neat to see how the club has grabbed onto the event with a lot of enthusiasm, and has made it more successful each year. I think everyone here is thrilled and happy to do it. While there are no stumbling blocks to success and enthusiasm, you don’t want to take it for granted. We just hope we do better for next year.”
The idea of the tournament is to have a tournament that is fun for the members of The Springs Club while supporting First Tee. Freeman says they have a great support system among members, and have never had trouble filling the spots since the first year. He says they have been able to increase the number of vendors for the tournament, and this past year had a Corporate sponsor, Simplot, they are the fertilizer supplier of the country club. Their donation of $10,000 was a much appreciated contribution to the success of the tournament.
The kids from First Tee don’t participate in the tournament, but they do come and speak at the luncheon after the tournament is over, to explain the benefits of First Tee and also to thank the country club members and tell them why their contributions are so important.
The tournament is filled primarily with members from The Springs Club, although Johnny Bench, who lives in the Valley, participates and runs the auction. Nicole Castrale of the LPGA tour and Keith Fergus from the PGA tour and Springs Club member were on hand to give clinics to those who were playing.
“We haven’t needed to pursue outside talent or celebrities to make this successful,” Freeman explains, “because these people have been very happy to participate with us, to make it more fun. We’ve limited the number of players to 108; we don’t want the course to be so crowded that we can’t get it done in a reasonable time. The enthusiasm has been great and it’s so much fun for the members.”
Miller says they have never had to turn a kid away from First Tee because they couldn’t afford to pay. He says the tournament allows them to offer the kids scholarships so they can be a part of the organization.
“The core values we teach helps them in day to day life and at school,” Miller continues. We help them understand it’s not about winning or losing, but making good grades and the right way to do things. We help prepare them to get ready for college or life in general. The relationships they build and learning how to handle themselves in talking to individuals is important to them. The students who have made the honor roll has gone up every year, up 60 percent last year.”
There have been a couple students interested in pursuing golf as a full-time career, though Miller explains that they hope the kids who participate in the programs go to college, perhaps on scholarship, and then pursue status as a pro-golfer at that point.
“That would be wonderful, but we want to make sure they are prepared for life,” he says. “There are opportunities for scholarships through golf, especially with the young ladies, if they have the skill level to play the game.”
Freeman says the members of the country club participate in the tournament out of the goodness of their hearts and the desire to see golf grow in the Valley. “I don’t think anyone expects anything other than the idea that the youth in this valley are being encouraged to learn golf and participate in the other things that First Tee has to offer.”
He goes on to urge other businesses to get involved in the community, saying, “Your privileged position inside your gated community or club really should make you be responsible to look outside yourselves and share with others who need your help. The club can pick a cause that everyone there can get behind and be enthusiastic about. Our members have become so enthusiastic about First Tee that we have talked about picking another organization and doing a similar event at another time of the year.”
Dan Cooper, General Manager at The Springs Club, says it’s all about the kids, and local businesses should be involved and give back to the community in any way they can. He said The Springs Club supports other charities, such as the Boys and Girls Club, through events. “We have a Boys & Girls Club concert. Members come to see the Boys & Girls Club Music Heat Wave Band play and leave donations for the organization.
“We also do a Concert under the Stars with students from Citrus College, who we pay to do the concert and the money goes towards the schools Music program. We have a second group of performers from Citrus College come during the holidays for our Christmas Party. We also encourage our members to contribute to a scholarship program for employees, and we raised over $40,000 for scholarships for employees and their immediate families.”
Stephanie Hart, who is the golf starter at the club, participates in the tournament with her husband, Doug Hart, The Springs Club Director of Golf. Not only does she do all the record keeping for the tournament, she tracks and solicits donations for the auctions.
“The economy in the desert hasn’t suffered as much so we are able to get some pretty good items,” she says of the donations she received this year. “The stores were happy to help us out, and we were very happy with the number of donations and the type we received.”
The tournament includes a lunch where a silent and live auction is held. Auction items include everything from vouchers for local restaurants, jewelry items, golf accessories, weekend stays and even certificates to play golf at other country clubs in the area.
“I also got a Wine, Women and Shoes party from Stuart Weitzman Shoes. They provide the wine, and the person who gets the bid can invite 10 of their friends to the store for appetizers and all of them get 20 percent off their purchase during the party.
“We get a similar thing from Cos Bar, a national luxury cosmetic store. They give the person who purchases the party a $1300 gift basket, and then they you can bring up to 10 of their friends to shop at the store and drink wine and have a good time.”