Throughout the past three months of the COVID-19 period, we were reminded time and again how the game of golf continually provides help and support to people when it is most needed. It has been that way for decades; golf answers the call.
But it’s not just in times of crisis that golf steps up. It does so on an ongoing basis, 365 days a year. And a shining example of that is about to become reality in Toledo, Ohio.
The First Tee is a national organization that was launched in 1997 in an effort to bring golf to kids, especially underprivileged youngsters in economically challenged areas. It focuses on character building and promoting healthy choices through the game of golf.
The First Tee of Lake Erie is set to break ground this summer on a one-of-a-kind multi-use facility and golf course that also will serve the Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo. A capital campaign is underway to bring in the needed money, the plans have been completed and shovels go into the ground shortly.
Once completed, this may become the best First Tee facility in the national network, and it could well become a model for others.
It has been a long and winding road to this moment. It began six years ago with a vision from lifelong amateur competitor Alan Fadel, from Toledo. Fadel envisioned a facility to include a driving range, a short course and a practice green, as well as a 15,000-square-foot building to house educational and activity space.
Fadel wanted it to be more than just golf; he envisioned a multi-purpose vocational school, telling Global Golf Post in 2016 that the chapter could “develop course superintendents, future PGA club professionals, and caddies.”
At the same time, a Toledo resident and former Evans Scholar signed on as executive director of the area's First Tee chapter. Adam Reny grew up caddying at Inverness Club and then ran the caddie program there after graduating from Ohio State University.
A breakthrough came in 2017 when Toledo-based health care provider ProMedica got involved. The organization partnered with the First Tee to launch an effort called “Growing Futures Together” to raise funds for the golf course and what is now called the Dattilo Family Youth Leadership Center, named for Tom and Jesse Dattilo of Toledo with a lead gift to the campaign.
Randy Oostra, president and chief executive officer of ProMedica, was the catalyst for the project with his vision and commitment to improving the lives of youth in the community. ProMedica bought 42 acres of land from Inverness that previously served as a parking area for major championships hosted by the club. It then leased the land to the First Tee for $1 a year.
Another breakthrough came from Reny’s service on the local board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo. After many months of discussions, the Boys & Girls Clubs agreed to join in as a third partner for the chapter and facility – a first-of-its-kind collaboration that is getting national attention. The overall fundraising effort was reset in 2019 to reflect this, and despite the pandemic the partners have raised nearly $4.5 million of their $7 million goal.
Course architect Andrew Green, who recently concluded restoration work at Donald Ross-designed Inverness, contributed his time to design the golf facility. His work is strikingly close to Fadel’s original vision.
The First Tee of Lake Erie serves nearly 400 kids; remarkably, 38 percent of those youngsters are girls. With luck, some of these kids will fulfill Fadel’s stated goals and work in the game in some way. Maybe one or two will become future leaders in the Toledo area.
For information about the Growing Futures Together campaign, visit giving.promedica.org/gft or call 419-291-0206.