SI Vault
 
EAST OF EDEN, GOLF'S GOOD FIGHT
ALAN SHIPNUCK
June 11, 2012
The kids of Salinas are just miles from opulence, yet they live a world away, in a place where gangs and violence hold sway and tough choices come early. The First Tee of Monterey County is often the only alternative
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 11, 2012

East Of Eden, Golf's Good Fight

The kids of Salinas are just miles from opulence, yet they live a world away, in a place where gangs and violence hold sway and tough choices come early. The First Tee of Monterey County is often the only alternative

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4

This seemed like a pretty good alibi, but Spiller was unimpressed.

"Which core value could you have used?" he asked.

Jonell's eyes wandered around the atrium, where the nine tenets of The First Tee are listed. He could have selected honesty, or integrity, or responsibility. A case could also have been made for respect. Finally Jonell spoke.

"Judgment," he said. "I should have finished my writing assignment before I did anything else."

He was sent to the clubhouse to finish his schoolwork, looking crushed.

While so much of the emphasis at The First Tee is on citizenship, some darn good golfers are being produced too. Two of the best at TFTMC are Jose Calderon, 12, and Jason Orozco, 10. That afternoon they headed out for a game with Scott Varner, a volunteer coach. Jason loosened up on the 1st tee with a knockoff hybrid that has an unpronounceable Eastern European name. "I got it for five dollars at the Goodwill, and it's my favorite club," he said.

Jose's set is a mishmash of clubs given to him by The First Tee as a reward for his ongoing good comportment. A few years ago Jose was having behavioral problems in school and beginning to run with the wrong crowd. His parents work long, hard hours in the fields and feared Jose was being swallowed up by his neighborhood. "He's a good boy, but there are many negative influences around him," his mother, Josefina, said through an interpreter.

Jose had no choice but to be influenced by The First Teeā€”his school, Virginia Rocca Barton Elementary, is adjacent to the 2nd hole. He fell hard for the game during his visits to The First Tee and begged his parents to put him in the after-school program. "I was hesitant because I didn't know anything about golf," says Jose's father, Alberto. "I thought it was a rich man's game." Jose began visiting TFTMC every afternoon, and his enthusiasm was such that his parents decided they wanted to try the game. Now on the weekends Alberto and Josefina go to the driving range with Jose, as do his two brothers. The parents enjoy getting swing tips from Jose and marvel at his evolution.

"Golf has turned him into a gentleman," says Josefina. Jose recently received a commendation from his school for earning all A's and B's. "The First Tee is a big part of that," says Alberto. "He does his homework only because that's how he gets to go play." Golf has expanded Jose's world in other ways. During last year's Nature Valley First Tee Open, three busloads of kids were transported from TFTMC to Pebble Beach for a picnic and a golf clinic. Jose lives less than 20 miles from some of the world's most spectacular coastlines, but the field trip to Pebble was the first time he could recall seeing the ocean.

Back in East Salinas, a strong, chilly wind had blown in as Jose and Jason set out for their match, but they insisted on playing the back tees, which measure 1,856 yards to a par of 31. They exchanged scorecards on the 1st tee, good practice as both are beginning to play local tournaments. Jason's action is smooth and on-plane. Jose has a John Daly--esque backswing and generates tremendous clubhead speed for a sixth-grader. Both kids rifled shots to the middle of the green. "They don't know how hard this game is," Varner muttered.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4