WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA: In May, when the PGA Tour returns to the Port City for the first time in 47 years for a one-time playing of the Wells Fargo Championship, first place will pay $1.4 million.
But the champion won’t be the only winner.
The once-struggling The First Tee of Greater Wilmington will be celebrating, too, with the unveiling of a new $1+million facility — a project made possible by an inspired community effort and the philanthropic giving that accompanies professional golf.
Built on city land, and comprises a three-hole short course with multiple teeing areas and a practice green (a classroom, office space and multi-use surfaces with hitting nets are also in the works), the new facility is more than a grooming ground for young golfers. It is evidence of the charitable power of the PGA Tour and the good that comes when community leaders join forces in support of a program designed to improve the trajectory of young people’s lives.
Until recently, The First Tee of Greater Wilmington was a struggling local chapter of an otherwise successful national organization. Underutilized, it had been put under management of an adjoining county’s successful The First Tee program.
The revival of the local chapter began after the PGA Tour selected Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington as the one-time site of the Wells Fargo Championship, a move resulting from the tournament’s traditional venue, Quail Hollow in Charlotte, having been chosen to host the 2017 PGA Championship.
Seizing on a unique opportunity, community leaders used the PGA Tour event as a rallying cry in support of the local The First Tee. Among business leaders and government officials, the response was swift.
“I met with two of the City leaders on a Friday in late June, 2016 and described the vision,” says local The First Tee chairman Gordon Dalgleish. “They immediately bought into the concept and 10 months later we will be opening the facility on the Tuesday of the Wells Fargo Championship.”
“When I share that story,” Dalgleish continues, “people are stunned as government does not often move that quickly. Yes. But how often does the PGA Tour come to our community. That is wonderful leverage.”
Under the guidance of Dalgleish and The First Tee executive director Randy Hofer, much has changed for the Wilmington chapter in the last 18 months. The accomplishments include:
- Fundraising – working with civic and business leaders, a sustainable financial campaign model has been created that draws support from multiple entities in the community. Importantly, The First Tee of Greater Wilmington has been designated as the primary charitable beneficiary of this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.
- Effective late 2016, The First Tee of Greater Wilmington regained its status as a stand-alone chapter.
- Board of Directors – A diverse and engaged Board was established whose members include the County Commissioner and the District Attorney; the CEO of a local hospital system; and the Chairman and CEO of Wilmington’s largest company.
- Strategic plan to service 25,000 children in the three county area by 2019 – Work with the National School Program to place equipment in schools and introduce golf and the life skills it teaches to 1 in 3 children in our extended community.
- Public/private partnership to create The First Tee facility – nowhere has the urgency of creating a community legacy been more visible than in the creation of a $1+M facility on city land, completely funded by private support, alongside the ninth fairway of the Donald Ross designed local municipal golf course.
- Local golfers will also have access to the large hitting net for practice in addition to a new practice chipping green adjacent to the number one tee amongst other improvements.
As Randy Hofer sees it, no matter who walks off the Wells Fargo Championship, Wilmington will wind up with a big win.
“I was working with The First Tee of Greater Philadelphia when the 2013 US Open was played at Merion. That was a great opportunity for us there,” said Executive Director Hofer, “this is Wilmington’s Major.”
About The First Tee
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the First Tee (www.firsttee.org) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit youth development organization whose mission is to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf. With its home office at World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla., The First Tee reaches young people on golf courses, in elementary schools and at other youth-serving locations.
Since its inception in 1997, The First Tee has grown its network to deliver programs in all 50 United States and select international locations. The First Tee’s Founding Partners are LPGA, the Masters Tournament, PGA of America, PGA TOUR and the USGA. Shell Oil Company is The First Tee’s Founding Corporate Partner and Johnson & Johnson is its Legacy Partner. Former President George W. Bush serves as honorary chair.