First Tee claims some success but still no Tiger

By Associated PressApril 1, 2009, 4:00 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. ' A black man in a green jacket inspired so much hope to change the color of golf.
Six months after Tiger Woods became the first golfer of African-American heritage to win the 1997 Masters, the PGA Tour seized on its chance to spread a game that was historically elite ' and mostly white ' to the masses.
And so began The First Tee, which PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem conceived as a way to make golf more affordable and accessible for kids of all races and economic levels.
In nearly 12 years, The First Tee has established 206 chapters in 49 states and five countries. It has reached nearly 3 million young people, including 1.3 million kids through a mandatory school program.
But there remains only one black player at the highest level of golf ' and questions whether efforts to change the games demographics are on the right course.
Its hard work, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. If you go back, there were two issues. One was there was no role model to create interest among African-American kids. That issue got handled with Tiger. But the other one, which was just as big, was access to facilities. Youve got to get golf to kids, and its a slow process.
Whether its working depends largely upon expectations.
I dont know if it was ever the intent of The First Tee to produce top-tier tour players, said Pepper Peete, director of The First Tee in Jacksonville, Fla., which serves 1,500 kids a year. The intent was to provide opportunity for growth, for exposure to the game.
But the golf coach at Savannah State University referred to his local First Tee program as a baby-sitting service.
These kids are coming from homes that are going for a half-million and up, coach Art Gelow said. I guess their parents want to go out and play tennis, or go out shopping. It appalls me.
Expectations grew from an early TV promotion for The First Tee that showed a young African-American hammering a golf tee into the concrete streets of the city, taking aim with his driver and swinging for the future. It delivered a powerful message.
Then there was the Nike commercial, showing children of all races and gender, toting golf bags around city streets and public courses, looking into the camera and saying, I am Tiger Woods.
Woods, however, has proven to be more of an exception than a blueprint.
His father, Earl Woods, introduced him to golf before he could walk. Woods won his first Junior World Championship at age 8. He understood course management before he could do long division.
Thats what causes Finchem to look more at the long haul.
Weve made some strides, Finchem said. But it took Earl 20 years to bring Tiger to that point, and thats one kid starting at age 2. Its a long, tough pull to make a huge impact on the look of the tour.
Joe Louis Barrow Jr., hired in 2000 as executive director of The First Tee, points to progress in the 2.9 million kids whom the program has reached. Many of them have gone on to play in high school, some in college.
Even so, 54 percent of those kids are white; 20 percent are black; 8.3 percent are Hispanic.
And a dozen years later, none has reached the PGA Tour.
Expectations were set high by many people in the media industry because of who Tiger was, the manner in which he came on the scene and how he dominated the scene, Barrow said. But any of the major golfers have had golf in their life for many, many years. Regardless of color, it takes time. People wanted it to happen overnight.
While the face of golf did not change, the mission statement of The First Tee did.
Its initial emphasis was to build courses and programs to make golf more affordable and accessible. Now, the mission is to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that promote character and values through golf.
I think First Tee sold us a bill of goods, Jackson State golf coach Eddie Payton said. We got excited because we thought it was going to create the accessibility and education for the next generation of African-American golfers. They got in and said their goal was not to produce golfers, but create character through the game of golf.
Thats a crock, he said. We dont need character. You create character by going to church and from your parents. You dont need golf facilities, and money allocated to teach people to play golf, being used to create character.
Woods, however, went the same direction with his foundation.
He opened his Tiger Woods Learning Center in 2006. The focus is education, with golf only a small component. His foundation has a national golf team, but the criteria is built more around grades and community service than the ability to save par from a bunker.
My dad and I used to have this conversation, Woods said. Whats the bigger picture? Would you rather have a person play pro golf or have an impact on society? And I had this conversation with The First Tee. Its not about producing professional golfers. Its about giving them the opportunity to have life skills so they can be productive citizens.
If they choose to work hard and to become a professional golfer, so be it, he said. But give them tools and access to a game that teaches you about life.
Each chapter of The First Tee is independent and encouraged to raise money locally. Barrow said The First Tee has raised upward of $250 million, which includes annual contributions from Augusta National. The U.S. Golf Association has contributed more to First Tee chapters through its grant program than any other organization.
Even when it was created, it wasnt like the program was to identify players to compete at an elite level, USGA executive director David Fay said. Of course, you want that. Anybody involved in the game should at least be disappointed in the landscape, the number of African-Americans competing at the very highest level.
Barrow understands better than most how golf for years catered mainly to whites.
His father, the late heavyweight champion Joe Louis, was the first black to play in a PGA-sanctioned event at the 1952 San Diego Open, and he later gave financial and moral support when Charlie Sifford broke the color barrier in 1961 and joined the PGA Tour.
Barrow said The First Tee is about to launch a new program geared toward identifying the most skilled players and putting them with golf instructors at an academy in Richmond, Va.
It took 20 years for Woods to arrive, and The First Tee has been around just over half that long. Asked if it was fair to expect more black golfers at the highest level 10 years from now, Barrow said without hesitation:
Yes. You can hold me to that.
Related Links:
  • More Color of Golf stories
  • Getty Images

    Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

    By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

    Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

    Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

    As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

    "That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

    Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

    Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

    Getty Images

    Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

    By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

    If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

    Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

    But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

    Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

    Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

    Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

    Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

    Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

    Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

    Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

    Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

    Getty Images

    Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

    SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

    Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

    “It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

    Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

    “What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

    Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

    “When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

    Getty Images

    Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

    SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

    Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

    Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

    Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.