Golf

Orange Bowl Committee launching girls’ sports program — Drive for Excellence

Marisa Urrutia, a junior at Coral Gables High, is one of the best golfers in Miami-Dade, making second team All-Dade as a freshman and sophomore.
Marisa Urrutia, a junior at Coral Gables High, is one of the best golfers in Miami-Dade, making second team All-Dade as a freshman and sophomore.

Girls’ golf in Miami-Dade County will get a much-needed boost Thursday, and providing the helping hand is the Orange Bowl Committee.

For the first time in its history, the Orange Bowl Committee is launching a girls’ sports program, and golf is the chosen sport.

The program, called Drive for Excellence, will involve 35 girls who will participate in a 37-week program that is designed to prepare girls 8 to 18 years old in many areas of life and golf. The program’s kickoff ceremony will take place at Melreese Country Club at 4 p.m. on Thursday.

The final result, hopefully: golf scholarships.

The Orange Bowl Committee, particularly president and chairperson Lee Stapleton, thought this was an overdue effort to help female athletes, and they know all-too-well that golf was a good starting point since one-third of all female college golf scholarships go unused.

OBC members will meet with the girls on a regular basis, serving as mentors and role models to latch onto those unused scholarships.

“I am so happy this is happening,” Stapleton said. “It means everything to me.”

So is Marisa Urrutia, one of the young faces that represent the program.

Urrutia, a junior at Coral Gables High, is one of the best golfers in Miami-Dade, making second team All-Dade as a freshman and sophomore. “This year it will be first team,” she said determinedly.

That determined attitude also applies to her studies as she is a member of the National Honor Society and plans to become the first person in her family to graduate from college. And not just any college — she wants to attend Columbia and play golf there.

Part of Marisa’s involvement in golf came when her mother, Lena, a single mom, went to work at the Melreese golf course near the airport six years ago, working on the course as the beverage person. That entails hard, constant and long labor under the sun’s heat.

And that toiling has helped Lena give her daughter more opportunities than mom ever had.

“It’s all so worth it,” Lena said. “Every day I wake up, I am happy because of the job. I have been able to give my daughter a good life, and that puts a smile on my face. I tell her that whatever happens, I will always have her back. I worship her.”

It’s a mutual admiration society.

“Every day, in my small teenage way,” Marisa said, “I see what my mom does for me. She means everything to me.”

Even Marisa’s grandmother, Iria, got into the act.

“She came with me to a tournament,” Marisa recalled. “She walked the whole course watching me play. She knows absolutely nothing about golf, but she would just smile and that’s exactly what I needed.”

The Orange Bowl will not go into its golf endeavor alone.

They have wisely enlisted The First Tee of Miami as a partner, and The First Tee is an experienced organization in terms of working with kids — teaching them the values of education, the value of social and ethical conduct, and finally — and not most importantly, by The First Tee’s own admission — they teach golf.

The Orange Bowl could not have chosen a better or more knowledgeable partner in working with young people.

The two organizations will join in other areas in the future, with the Orange Bowl helping with and becoming a main sponsor in the First Tee’s renowned Doral-Publix Junior Golf Classic in December, one of the premiere youth golf events in the world that has attracted many players that have gone on to illustrious pro careers, including Rory McIlroy.

In fact, McIlroy — who has won four of golf’s majors (two PGAs, one U.S. Open and one Open Championship) — fondly calls the Doral-Publix Classic that he won at age 8, “The first major I ever won.”

So, the Orange Bowl not only gets a good and knowledgeable friend in The First Tee, but a bit of history.

“A perfect fit,” Stapleton summed up.

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