Golf can teach values to youngsters

With public-private partnerships giving way to a new generation of multi-million dollar developments across Miami-Dade County, one of the most impactful projects to take shape in our community is also one of its most understated.

The First Tee of Miami Family Learning Center, now up and running at the City of Miami-owned Melreese Golf Club, is the new Miami home of First Tee, an international nonprofit dedicated to positively impacting the lives of young people around the world through the game of golf.

Founded in 2003, First Tee of Miami provides facilities and experiences that enable children from all walks of life to take part in a sport that teaches life-enhancing skills and builds personal character through core values of honesty, responsibility, courtesy, judgment, respect, perseverance, integrity, confidence and sportsmanship.

Despite these far-reaching benefits, golf is not widely accessible; only 2 percent of American children ages 12-17 have teed off on a golf course, according to the National Golf Foundation. The investments being made in Miami are an example of how First Tee is aggressively growing that number.

With 5,500 square feet of dedicated education and tutorial space, a series of covered practice bays with state-of-the-art golf simulation systems, interactive smart boards, and 18 workstations with brand new computers, the Family Learning Center is unlike any First Tee facility in the United States. All told, nearly 5,000 children will be served through the First Tee of Miami Learning Center each year.

The children will receive academic coaching as part of an innovative program developed by Grasp Learning, including homework support, study skills training, and digital literacy. Scholarships from the First Tee Foundation will be available to children who are unable to afford the academic program.

Built at a cost of nearly $2 million allocated by the City of Miami, the programs that take place inside the Learning Center will be funded in large part by the private sector — through a combination of corporate sponsorships, individual gifts, and partnerships similar to our affiliation with the PGA Tour’s World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. This is a model public-private partnership in every sense of the word.

The completion of this building marks the realization of a longtime vision for a dedicated education and training facility by First Tee of Miami founder Charlie DeLucca, Jr. Charlie and his son, Charlie DeLucca III, have spearheaded the ongoing efforts to secure the public and private funding necessary for expanding the program’s reach.

The work undertaken by the DeLuccas has proven that the sport of golf can be a great equalizer. The students who take part in First Tee programs come from a diverse cross-section of neighborhoods in our community — from Little Havana and Liberty City, to Pinecrest and Perrine.

While many of these children are directed to First Tee through the Miami-Dade Public School System, our programs are open to all students within our community, regardless of their financial status. All we ask is that students maintain satisfactory grades.

The continued support of the public and private sectors ensures we can grow our impact while standing by this promise.

For regulars at Melreese Golf Club, the sight of hundreds of junior golfers overtaking the clubhouse on a Saturday morning is par for the course. While many clubs go out of their way to prevent this very phenomenon, Melreese and its patrons embrace it.

We feel a sense of pride and enlightenment when playing side-by-side with First Tee participants, knowing that our work has created an opportunity for them to tee off on their own bright future.

Michael D. Wohl is the chairman of the First Tee Foundation of Miami and a partner with Miami-based Pinnacle Housing Group, the nation’s seventh largest affordable housing developer.

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