The Dell Match Play has done plenty to cast Austin in a positive light. The spectacular setting of Austin Country Club with breathtaking vistas of the nearby Pennybacker Bridge have helped to shape the national perception of the city from Sixth Street and DKR to one of an upscale, lakefront community with expensive boats and premium home lots.
But perhaps as important as any positive side benefit the World Golf Championship event has produced is a string of charitable offerings to local organizations. For example, half the standard bearers at the tournament — those who carry the signs with each group — hail from Austin Country Club while the other half are First Tee members. First Tee is a beneficiary of the event, which will take place next week.
Some of First Tee members who will be walking alongside the greatest players in the world got involved thanks to the generosity of 100 Black Men of Austin, a group that sponsored 20 kids two years ago and has eyes on building an even bigger footprint in the golf space in years to come.
The short story is this — former First Tee board member Michael Gibson brought 100 Black Men of Austin president Karl Spencer and First Tee-Greater Austin Executive Director Jennifer MacCurrach together and the partnership has spawned something special, a group of new, diverse players to the golf community.
“The thing in my mind was how do we get more people of color, more kids of color, into First Tee because I think it’s such an incredible organization,” said Gibson, who’s a member at the UT Golf Club. “I had been working with Karl, who has an amazing energy, and I had seen how they’d been able to bring a ton of kids in for other initiatives. I thought, wow, this is something that could work.”
Spencer was instantly intrigued by the idea and put plans together to get a number of young Black players sponsored.
“I was trying to find ways for the 100 Black Men of Austin to incorporate the game of golf and to also teach the kids to get out into that environment and see something different,” Spencer said. “But also, I want these kids to know and understand that the golf course is a great place for them to network as they get older. There are so many great things about this game. So it’s not only about a great sport to have fun with now, but it’s a mechanism for them to be able to get jobs in the future.”
The first year was a success, and that got Spencer thinking this should be a program with staying power.
“I just felt in my heart that this was something we needed to do annually. But my goal is to raise another three to five thousand dollars because I want to get up to 50 kids in this program,” he said. “We want to give them the opportunity to learn the game of golf and interact with other kids from all walks of life.”
The plan hasn’t been perfected just yet, although all sides are working hard to smooth out any kinks. For example, the group has to use six affiliate sites on top of the Harvey Penick Golf Campus in East Austin, simply because Austin traffic is — well, you know — and the thought of getting every kid to the same facility is nearly impossible.
And then there’s the fundraising issue. While 100 Black Men of Austin is helping to foot the bill for registrations, the program can’t grow without help.
But the reaction has been exactly what MacCurrach, Gibson and Spencer all had hoped. The First Tee is a beneficiary of the Dell Match Play, meaning once a child gets entered into the program, he or she can get help with equipment and access to courses, not just for the current session, but for as long as the child is eligible. And while the funding isn’t there yet for all 50 potential members, the reaction from invested parents has been incredibly positive.
“The parents are just blown away. Every parent has come back and said, ‘how can we be involved? How can we get our kid in First Tee?’ They see the character of the kids. They see how confident they are. They see how they carry themselves,” Gibson said. “And then at the end of the day, they see their golf skills.”