By Bob Denney, PGA of America
VERONA, Pa. -- Although a persistent drizzle prevented some 150 juniors from enjoying an outdoor "classroom" Monday at the PGA of America's Community Relations Youth Golf Clinic, PGA Honorary Member Dennis Walters offered the perfect indoor "mulligan" at Green Oaks Country Club in Verona, Pa.
A PGA Honorary Member from Plantation, Fla., who was left a paraplegic after a golf cart accident in 1974, Walters is one of the country's most unique golf trick-shot performers. Joined by his pet dog and companion of the past seven years, Benji Hogan, Walters delivered inspirational messages that combined golf's long-term character-building values for youths representing four Greater Pittsburgh golf organizations.
The PGA Community Relations Youth Golf Clinic was held in conjunction with The 66th Senior PGA Championship, which is being conducted May 23-29, at Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pa. The clinic is one of many programs sponsored by the PGA Foundation, which offers opportunities in golf for those who may otherwise not have the opportunity to play the game.
PGA of America President Roger Warren opened the program with his own motivational words to inspire the youngsters in the audience to continue to learn and enjoy the game. The clinic was to have involved nearly 40 members of the Tri-State PGA Section, all of whom are closely associated with Greater PittsburghÕs youth groups. Walters took over from there and drew rave reviews.
"Never give up on your dream," Walters told the group. "Thirty years ago I was paralyzed from the waist down and when doctors told me that I would never play golf again I said, 'No way I was going to give up golf.' Never let someone tell you that you can't do something. You can do it if you are willing to pay the price. I believe that there are only a few things in life that are impossible."
And, Walters has proved to thousands of golf enthusiasts that he can bring both golf and dreams together. He estimates that he has given more than 2,000 performances, while conducting an exhausting annual travel schedule that totals 100,000 miles and between 90-100 programs.
"This is great for the kids," said Renee Abrams, director of the Pittsburgh Youth Golf Foundation. "We couldn't get outside today, but Dennis did a great job."
Walters' 43-foot Newmar Mountain Air van, equipped with all the luxuries of home, has rolled into the parking lots of thousands of golf facilities over the past three decades.
Benji Hogan is the third pet that Walters has teamed to produce the Dennis Walters Golf Show, succeeding the late "Muffin"and "Mulligan."
Benji Hogan, whom Walters rescued from a Miami Animal Shelter, has what his owner calls "an infinite data base in his head. He is fantastic, and we have a never-ending team experience."
Four youth organizations from Greater Pittsburgh have combined a strong relationship with the Tri-State PGA Section to succeed in various success stories by offering opportunities to youths who might otherwise never find the means to play the game of golf.
The clinic was sponsored by the PGA Foundation and supported by Dick's Sporting Goods of Pittsburgh. Youths assembled The First Tee of Pittsburgh, The Pittsburgh Youth Golf Foundation, The First Tee of Beaver Falls and the West Penn Minority Junior Golf Association.
"We also have kids who are graduates and not in the golf industry, but have taken the life values from the game and applied them to their lives and careers," said Rock Robinson, director of the West Penn Minority Junior Golf Association.
Robinson, a mechanical engineer and a golf instructor, has teamed with PGA Director of Golf Ned Weaver of Southpointe Golf Club in Canonsburg, Pa., to coordinate the golf curriculum. For the past decade, this program, with an average of 50 youngsters participating annually, has produced PGA Professional Golf Management students at Penn State and Queens College, and one graduate who is nearing completion of training to become a PGA Professional.
Robinson said the organization has set up 19 internships for its program's participants at such clubs as Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, Westmoreland Country Club of Export, Allegheny Country Club of Sewickley, Southpointe Golf Club and Pittsburgh's Alcoma Country Club.
"The kids are learning the business of golf," said Robinson. "I have a daughter who came through our program and is now in hospitality management at Churchill Country Club. There are opportunities out there and we have been working hard to get our kids to be at the forefront in making the most of those opportunities."
Renee Abrams is director of The Pittsburgh Youth Golf Foundation, which began in 1991 and has used both PGA and LPGA Professionals on a 50-member teaching roster.
"We are still soaring," said Abrams, who owns her own event planning business. "It is tremendous the support we have received from the PGA Professionals in the Tri-State Section, and from LPGA Professionals. The public school program has been elevated."
Abrams said her son Ben introduced her to junior golf programs. Ben is a graduate of the New Mexico State PGA/PGM Program and is now has a position at a club in Aruba.
"My son got me involved and I became hooked on what golf can do for young people," said Abrams. "I initiated the link between the Foundation and Tri-State PGA Professionals and the school board. And, it has taken off from there."
PGA Professional Sean Parees, PGA Director of Golf at Quicksilver Golf Club in Midway, Pa., is one of the Tri-State PGA Professionals serving the Pittsburgh Youth Golf Foundation.
"It is great to see what has happened to this program and to the overall community," said Abrams. "I believe that the experience has improved our own guys in their golf instruction."
The other successes include The First Tee of Pittsburgh, which served as the coordinating organization for the clinic at Green Oaks Country Club.
Since 2000, the program has had more than 4,000 youngsters participate, and produced 30 national scholars, including seven national honorees the past two years.
"You are always feeling good inside when you hear of successes of young people that you have had the opportunity to work with -- even for a short time," said Bruce Stephen, director of The First Tee of Pittsburgh. "There are many success stories in this area."
The fourth participating group at the PGA Community Relations Youth Golf Clinic was The First Tee of Beaver Falls. The program has averaged 400-450 participants annually, and has featured a unique presentation of incorporating life skills along with golf lessons.
The groups brought some 150 youngsters to the clinic, and all were given tickets to attend the 66th Senior PGA Championship.
The PGA of America, founded in 1916, is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the game of golf while continuing to enhance the standards of the profession. The Association is comprised of more than 28,000 men and women PGA Professionals who are dedicated to growing participation in the game of golf.