Bunker Mulligan "Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry." ~Mark Twain

October 5, 2004

Golf and Life Success

Filed under: Bunker's Favorites,Golf,Government,Society-Culture — Bunker @ 6:30 am

I have been involved in sports all my life. As a kid I played baseball, fooball, soccer, cricket, and basketball. As I grew older I continued playing softball, volleyball, racquetball, and golf, and coached baseball, basketball, and football. As my knees gave out, I could no longer keep up in sports requiring quick changes in direction, and golf became my one activity.

Golf is unique, and that is something I hope continues now that Tiger-mania has died down. What makes it unique is the requirement for a player to understand the rules, and penalize himself for violating one. Some of that has been lost with the huge influx of new players over the last decade. It is coming back.

That integrity is something that can carry over for a child raised in the game. Fair play means far more in golf than in other sports because of it. For that reason, this program in the home neighborhood for Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., is especially meaningful. Bobby Jones was considered a paragon of virtue in the game. He would beat the crap out of you with no remorse, but fair play always ruled.

I bring this all up due to the article I just cited, which I found in a serendipitous way. It combines several of my interests in one successful program. East Lake Golf Club was Bobby Jones’ home course. As a boy and young man, he had a terrific temper. His golf showed it. When things went well, he had a syrupy smooth swing. When they didn’t, golf clubs were broken, and curses filled the air. Once he gained control of his demons, he was unbeatable. His Grand Slam is incomparable, and will never be matched. Unlike today’s version, he won the US Amateur, British Amateur, British Open, and US Open Championships in a single year. To my knowledge, nobody has won all four of those tournaments since, let alone all in one year. Tiger has won all but the British Amateur.

The year before Jones died, the Atlanta Housing Authority opened the East Lake Meadows housing project on what had been the Number 2 course at the country club. By the early 1980s, the project would be better known as “Little Vietnam,” a nickname given for its over-the-top crime rates and drug trade. The housing project crippled not only the lives of those residing within it, but the surrounding community as well. Drug traffickers took over the bungalows lining the golf course and converted them to crack houses. The storied golf club that had nurtured Jones was brought to the brink of bankruptcy. The community that once represented the best of the New Atlanta was now a community without hope.

Tom Cousins, an Atlanta philanthropist, decided he had thrown money around at different “solutions” for years without result, and decided to take on the task himself. He changed the entire area of East Lake by rebuilding the Country Club, tearing down the projects, and building a new community with low- to mid-range housing along with encouraging business growth. The local elementary school was rebuilt, and a charter school has taken its place.

Golf has a role, as well.

Most of the money that Cousins’ foundation put into the East Lake community went into building the Charlie Yates course and restoring the East Lake Golf Club. The Yates course is there for more than aesthetics, though its lush fairways and sparkling lake do create a pleasant environment. Borrowing an idea from golfing legend Chi Chi Rodriguez, Cousins also established a Junior Golf Academy at Yates. The academy is closely affiliated with Drew Charter School and serves as a key youth development program for East Lake kids. To date, the academy has exposed over 1,000 students to the game. To take advantage of the full range of academy activities, students must reach academic benchmarks. The best players who make grades are allowed to travel to golf tournaments. This year, in recognition of the ongoing East Lake relationship with the PGA TOUR Championship, the Junior Golf Academy will become a part of the First Tee Program–a PGA sponsored program to increase inner-city and minority children

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