First Tee Tries To Play Through COVID-19 Hardships

By Scott Nunn, posted Nov 11, 2020
Children play golf with the help of First Tee of Greater Wilmington. Social distancing guidelines have curtailed the number of kids the organization can serve. (Photo courtesy of The First Tee of Greater Wilmington)
From tee to fairway to green, the 18th hole at Pebble Beach presents golfers monumental challenges at every turn. No part of the course is easy; there are no “gimmees.” 

That’s been the story for the Wilmington chapter of First Tee as it tries to play through the pandemic. Just like the famous final hole at Pebble Beach, COVID-19 has presented obstacles at every step for the nonprofit, which uses golf to teach life skills.

Social-distancing requirements have curtailed the number of kids it can serve, access to national opportunities, its pool of volunteers, vital fundraisers and general financial support for the program, which is part of the national PGA TOUR First Tee Foundation.

“Historically we had about 480 [participants],” said Gordon Dalgleish, chairman of First Tee of Greater Wilmington. “Now we are down to 230. From a fundraising standpoint ... events that we would have had [such as a] golf tournament back in the summer didn’t work.”

It’s all added up to a pretty dismal scorecard, and First Tee recently announced that local executive director Randy Hofer was leaving as part of efforts to cut operating costs, a step Dalgleish called necessary for the organization to survive the pandemic.

Outreach director Brittany Zachrich will pick up Hofer’s duties for the foreseeable future, Dalgleish wrote in a letter to supporters. Hofer had led the local First Tee chapter since 2014.

“Randy has had a significant impact on the progress we have made, making this a very difficult decision,” Dalgleish wrote. “But it will permit us to realign our expenses more closely with our projected revenues.”

Trying to navigate holes like Pebble Beach No. 18 or Augusta National’s famous No. 12, golfers have to stay positive and make the most of often-disappointing lies. Not all the numbers in Dalgleish’s COVID-19 yardage book are bad. 

“There's been a lot of positives,” Dalgleish said Monday. “I've seen more engagement from more people that I'm going to put into the key-influencers category.”

“We're really pleased with a terrific relationship evolving with Cape Fear Country Club,” said Dalgleish, a native of Scotland who, with his brother, Colin, runs Perry Golf, a golf-themed travel business. “We've had some of our participants over at Cape Fear playing with junior members over there.”

As First Tee tries to hit safely out of the monster COVID-19 sand trap, Dalgleish said the organization needs help at multiple levels, from donations to its volunteers corps -- traditionally an older group with a higher-level risk of COVID-19.

Like with a good golf shot, the biggest goal of First Tee is to help kids (especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds) get their lives on a good trajectory.

“It breaks my heart that the ones that we’ve worked with, ones where we are fundamentally changing the trajectory of their lives, are missing that opportunity,” the Wilmington resident said.

But he’s been around enough tough tracks to know that, no matter how difficult it seems, First Tee will get the ball in the hole.

“It's been one step forward, two steps back,” Dalgleish said in a Scottish brogue that can’t help but add cache’ to his obvious passion for the game. “You just have to keep your head down and grind it out.” 
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