Youth Golf: On the Green and in the Rough

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Shippen: African-American golfer who played in first U.S. Open, in 1895.

Correction: This version corrects two errors from the printed article: Andrew Guiterrez is 10, not 15, and, while the Community Oriented
Policing Services (COPS)
program is in the Department of
Justice, it is not under the Office of
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency

Thurman Simmons makes his living as a chauffeur, and in his spare time carries out his “life’s dream” of running a youth golf program.

Joe Louis Barrow Jr. makes his living as president of a youth golf program, for which he gets paid $500,000 a year.

Simmons’ program, the John Shippen Youth Golf Academy of Scotch Plains, N.J., runs on $1,600 a year.

Barrow’s program, The First Tee, based in St. Augustine, Fla., won a $500,000 federal grant for fiscal 2007 – a decrease from its past federal funding.

Simmons’ best player is a 10-year-old phenomenon who Simmons hopes will serve as an instructor for younger golfers.

The 10-year-old is thinking of switching to The First Tee.

Barrow: Federal funds are “not fundamental to us.”

It is a familiar dichotomy in youth work: the small, struggling independent program and the big, well-heeled operation that spreads nationwide through extensive private funding and federal dollars. But the grant to The First Tee from the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has put a national spotlight on the advantages of well-connected national programs over fiscally anemic community efforts, especially those geared toward underserved African-American and Hispanic populations. The grant was a major focus of a congressional hearing last month into OJJDP’s grant making.

How can this imbalance be remedied if the rich programs get bigger and richer through earmarks and preferential treatment, while smaller programs limp along? For that matter, do recreation and sports programs qualify as legitimate youth development strategies?

Simmons: Doing it for the love of the game.

Simmons looks at The First Tee and laments, “I don’t have a godfather in Congress.”

The First Tee’s top supporters, on the other hand, never heard of the Shippen academy and don’t see such programs as competition. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who recently put in a new earmark for The First Tee, says of Simmons, “Rather than harp about it, he ought to sit down and figure out how his program can complement First Tee.”

Growing a Small Program

According to GuideStar, 138 nonprofit youth golf programs filed federal 990 tax forms last year. Most stay afloat on modest public or private funding. They include Screen Door Open Charity Golf in Addison, Texas, (annual budget: $6,335), Golf Elite League of Youth in Brooklyn (annual budget: $12,989) and Midnight Golf in Detroit (annual budget: $246,928). It’s impossible to say how many of these are youth development programs that use golf, as opposed to efforts that aim primarily to promote golf.

Shippen is named after an African-American, John Matthew Shippen Jr., who, partnered with Scotsman Charles MacDonald, played in the first U.S. Open competition, in 1895. Born in 1879 and the son of a minister, Shippen went on to play in five more U.S. Opens. His best finish was a tie for fifth place in 1902. It was not until 1948 that another African-American, Ted Rhodes, competed in the Open. Shippen died in 1968.

Simmons, 64, who still chauffeurs for the pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. out of nearby Rahway, N.J., regards Shippen – whom he knew – as a “genuine hero.” Says Simmons, “Not only was he a fine player, but he made and sold his own clubs.”

As a tribute, the John Shippen Youth Golf Academy was created in 2004. With the help of two PGA golf pros at the Hyatt Hills golf course in adjacent Clark, N.J., Simmons secured two successive $6,000 one-year PGA grants to pay for once-a-week instruction and nine-hole play-through for 24 youngsters. The grant proposal and the daily monitoring process to keep the funding were the duties of Simmons and his wife Ruby, who was then a full-time English teacher. They lost the grants two years ago.

“It got to be too much paperwork for us, what with monitoring the percentage of genders and sexes, and time put in by instructors and participants,” Simmons says. “We lost the grant because we couldn’t hire a proposal writer or a person to monitor our program.”

Today, Simmons says, “We function on a shoestring because we love to teach youngsters not only the etiquette of the game, but the history of the game. That’s why I was proud to name the program after John Shippen.”

Shippen serves primarily African-American and Latino youngsters, ages 4 to 16; The First Tee serves mostly whites.

“If they can’t afford a membership [$65] or a golf bag [$200], I’ll reach into my pocket and make it happen because no child is going to be denied,” Simmons says.

Support from the Outside

Ruby Simmons makes clear that the in-kind services extended by the town’s mayor, local shopkeepers and golf course management allow “free food for events and free access to our fairways at anytime, seven days a week, as long as the youngster is wearing our uniform and accompanied by a parent.” She also credits parents for forming carpools to get youngsters to tournaments and a modest annual contribution from the Van Heusen Shirt Co. for helping with tournament fees and uniforms.

Aggressive fundraising, tournament sponsorships by an amalgam of public and private contributors and a slice of the budget from the local municipality’s parks and recreation department usually carry the day for the smaller, independent golf programs nationwide. Some have learned to flood the institutionalized pillars of golf, such as the Professional Golfers Association (PGA), the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), with proposals highlighting youth leadership and life skills.

As an example of the money in play, USGA spokesman Matthew Keys says his organization has awarded grants to more than 900 organizations since 1997. These grants have ranged from $720 for smaller organizations up to $100,000 for such items as construction grants for three-hole courses and practice putting greens.

World Golf’s Different World

The First Tee dominates the small world of youth golf programs. Its parent organization, the World Golf Foundation (WGF) says the program’s 282 affiliates over its 10 years have included Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs. It also has a National School Program component that boasts of having introduced more than 900,000 elementary school students to the “core values” of golf.

Simmons was not in attendance April 16 when National Golf Day, spearheaded by the WGF, was celebrated in the nation’s capital, complete with a congressional resolution sponsored by Reps. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) and John Mica (R-Fla.).

Some two months earlier, The New York Times had a feature story on golf declining in popularity nationwide, for such reasons as the length of the game, expensive country club fees and a contemporary unwillingness to meet strangers.

The WGF is the golf industry behemoth, with an annual budget of $37 million. A WGF Golf Day press release emphasized the “$76 billion golf economy” and hailed its The First Tee program as a “youth development initiative” that has “reached more than 1.2 million young people [since 1998] at more than 500 learning facilities and program affiliates.”

The First Tee, as the Washington-based Committee Against Government Waste (CAGW) points out, is “certainly not need-based.”

The First Tee runs ads during network broadcasts of golf tournaments and boasts corporate sponsorships from Fortune 500 companies such as Shell Oil, while its parent, the WGF, lists as “founding partners” the likes of PGA of America, the PGA Tour, the USGA, the Augusta National Golf Club and the LPGA. The First Tee also co-hosts tournaments with, and receives donations from, the Tiger Woods Foundation. Tom Schatz, CAGW president, noted that The First Tee has received $7.5 million in federal earmarks since 2003, during which time Congress has been controlled by both Republicans and Democrats. The WGF’s 2006 tax form 990 (the latest available) listed government grants of more than $4.4 million; while “direct public support” was posted as slightly over $21 million.

“Federal dollars are helpful, but not fundamental to us,” says The First Tee’s Barrow, the 61-year-old son of boxing legend Joe Louis.

And yet, the WGF puts no small effort into federal relations: It uses the services of the Washington-based lobbying firm of Reed Smith LLP. And it announced in a news release last fall that Barrow was adding “Development and U.S. Government Relations for the Foundation to his responsibilities.”

Jennifer Weiler, a senior director of The First Tee, said by e-mail that Barrow will “dialogue with elected officials at the national, state and local levels.” In 2006, Barrow was given a bonus of $149,033 and a “long-term incentive” bonus of $97,048, boosting his pay that year to $504,400. He was also given a loan, according to the WGF 2006 form 990, of $10,809.

Funding Sources

Among the earmarks and grants:

• In 2004, The First Tee got $1 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Education and its Character Education Program. Shatz of the Committee Against Government Waste said The First Tee was not eligible for any of this funding because these funds are intended solely for state and local education agencies and are disbursed through a competitive grant program.

• In 2004, it got $2 million from OJJDP’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program – begun under President Clinton to add 100,000 more cops to the street.

• In 2007, it received $500,000 from an OJJDP National Juvenile Justice Programs grant, although it ranked 47th in the staff review. That was one of the grants that sparked an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The grant proposal says The First Tee would pay its grants administrator $1,593 every two weeks.

• For 2008, it received a $3 million earmark, nailed down by House Majority Whip Clyburn.

That earmark in the Defense Department spending package prompted critic Schatz to opine: “It was not requested by the Pentagon, and the House Appropriations Committee said ‘No.’ It was rammed through by Clyburn in the House and Senate conference bill.”

Asked by Youth Today if federal funds were being used to market golf and recruit a new generation of players, Clyburn says, “So what?”

Clyburn, a golf enthusiast who has had a parks and recreation facility in Columbia, S.C., renamed in his honor (complete with a statue of Clyburn holding a golf club), responded to Schatz by saying golf is “character building.”

“First Tee represents core values that should be made available to all youngsters on our military bases. Not one penny of the money will be used for programs that are not on bases,” Clyburn says.

Can the Dot Survive?

Setting aside the merits of any particular program, it’s easy to see how the growth of The First Tee might threaten smaller programs, like Shippen.

Consider 10-year-old Andrew Guiterrez, a four-year Shippen veteran who recently participated in a First Tee tournament in Newark, NJ, just 20 minutes from Shippen’s Scotch Plains base. While Simmons wants Andrew to be an instructor for Shippen, one can’t blame the youth for thinking of switching to the larger, better-funded program.

“I didn’t need anything. … No entrance fee, no registration fee,” said Andrew, who’s been swinging a club since age 3. “First Tee helps me qualify for tournaments, but Shippen teaches the same thing every week.”

Neither Clyburn nor Barrow had heard of John Shippen. Told of Simmons’ plight, Barrow said, “I don’t know the details,” while Clyburn noted that getting funding “is always a problem.”

Back in Scotch Plains, Simmons marvels at the size of The First Tee program as he juggles 14-hour workdays with after-work and weekend activities to maintain the honor of the Shippen Youth Golf Academy, which is headquartered in his home.

“I don’t need their sympathy,” he says. “They’re doing it for money. I’m doing it for the love of the game. And John Shippen.”

“We’ll continue to find a way to keep this program alive and the kids excited,” he says. “Even if we’re just a little dot on the ocean.”

Contact: Shippen Academy (908) 322-5486; World Golf Foundation at