Golf writer Andy Reistetter recently attended A Taste of Golf at Deerwood Country Club, a fundraiser benefiting The First Tee of Jacksonville. The Executive Chefs of nine local golf clubs brought creative cuisine from around the world.
There was a large room full of unique and exciting items for the silent auction. Amanda Balionis, host of PGA TOUR Today, and Cole Pepper, host of the Jaguars Radio Network, conducted a live auction of privileged golf trips, a Porsche for the weekend and incredible Inspirato vacations.
Though the seventh annual Taste of Golf, this was the author's first attendance at the social golfing event of the year in Northeast Florida. Join Reistetter as he tastes his way around the world and savors the meaning of The First Tee.
One thing you realize from being out on tour for five years is that there is always a strong, devoted and talented woman behind a successful professional golfer. The pretty face with baby in arms coming to the champion on the 18th green on television is the same woman contributing behind the scene in countless charitable organizations around the world before, during and after the golfer's career.
In Jacksonville that woman would be Pepper Peete, the executive director of The First Tee of Jacksonville. Her husband, Calvin Peete, was the salt of the PGA TOUR in the 1980s ,a prolific winner, including the 1985 Players Championship, who we all admired for his determination to succeed in life,.
But she was not the story of this First Tee evening.
The mayor of Jacksonville, Alvin Brown, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, Tim Finchem, and Tabitha Furyk, representing The Jim & Tabitha Furyk Foundation, were there and spoke of how The First Tee impacts youth through values and an introduction to the game of golf. They easily could have been the story but were not.
The First Tee was created in 1997 by the World Golf Foundation with George H.W. Bush (No. 41) serving as the first honorary chairman. Though originating in America, it is international in scope with locations in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Singapore and New Zealand. Since the cuisine for the evening was as globally inspiring as The First Tee, let's have dinner before I tell you the real story of the evening. Perhaps that story is your story as well, even if you never played golf.
How about some South Korean smoked pork dumplings (executive sous chef Eric Butcher, Deerwood CC)? Jamaican jerk chicken over beans and rice with fresh mango salsa (executive chef Kira Lewis, Hidden Hills CC)? Vietnamese duck bahn mi (executive chef Lee Aquino, Jacksonville Golf & CC)? Puerto Rican bacon-wrapped banana stuffed shrimp with coquito sauce (executive chef Jerry Snider, San Jose CC)? Mexican braised skirt steak tamales (chef de cuisine Marvin McClelland, Sawgrass CC)? Swiss zuercher geschnetzeltes and speatzli (executive chef Herbert Burgin, St. Johns Golf & CC)? Indian pork vindaloo with raita and housemade naan (executive chef Hector Gonzales, TPC Sawgrass)? Italian bollito misto slider with salsa verde (executive chef Brent Lynch, World Golf Village)? Or for dessert Malaysian coconut-lemongrass panna cotta (executive pastry chefs Nils Rowland and Courtney Slipko) and Bahn Cam (executive pastry chef Caitlin Schneider-Frantz, Jacksonville Golf & CC)?
I can't say I know or can pronounce all those dishes by name but each one was delicious!
The real story of the evening began with a greeting from a young woman named Aleya. A participant of The First Tee of Jacksonville, she embodies the nine core values and I would bet she is near the Ace level in terms of life skills experience in The First Tee program. That's the most advanced level where the young person is planning volunteerism, education, golf and career. Aleya plays on her high school golf team. She beams bright, beautiful and balanced in life and was the perfect opening to the evening.
The middle of the story was an older gentleman I met named Joe Hines. When he was 12, a gentleman from a local country club drove through his neighborhood, stopped and asked if he and his friends wanted to become caddies. They did and he fell in love with the game of golf and Sam Snead's swing.
Joe saved his money and went to Tuskegee University for two years back when it was known as the Tuskegee Institute. His daughter Melody volunteered in the early years of The First Tee of Jacksonville, was proficient at golf and life. A straight-A student in college, she is now a successful accountant.
The end of the story was a story told by Commissioner Finchem, the honoree of the evening. He spoke without notes and from the heart of those early days of The First Tee program. In the course of kicking it off with President Bush, they asked Calvin Peete for his thoughts. His reply was simply that if there had been a First Tee program for him the world might not ever have known who Arnold Palmer was.
A shocking thought maybe, time will tell. My father came to golf, like Joe as a caddie. They passed it along to their children, stressing the importance of education as the means to success. The First Tee does that and more, taking it another step into character development as we all know an educated person is not necessarily a good person in today's world.
How soon will a First Tee graduate win a professional golf competition? How soon will a First Tee graduate become a mayor, senator or president? The caddies have done the first and influenced the second. The First Tee graduate will undoubtedly do both.
Let's give what we can to The First Tee and help make this happen. I donated a hickory-shafted golf club and it went in the auction for more than what I thought it was worth. Maybe you can do the same or somehow donate your personal time or professional wisdom to an outstanding collection of young people who will be our future leaders.
Next year, come out and support the 8th Taste of Golf benefiting The First Tee of Jacksonville. When the night is over, you will leave with more than being satiated or plans for a great vacation. You will know and have experienced what The First Tee is all about.
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a spotter, research and broadcast assistant for The Golf Channel, NBC and CBS Sports. He spends time on all four major American golf tours— the PGA, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA.
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Contact Reistetter by e-mail at AndyReistetter@gmail.com