Dave Stockton brings First Tee program to Inland Empire



SAN BERNARDINO – He barely recognizes the hometown he loves, but it doesn’t matter. Dave Stockton remains loyal to San Bernardino.

So when the 10-time PGA Tour winner — and two-time major champion — says he wants to help his tattered community, once known as the “All American City,” he means it.

“I remember San Bernardino in the old days,” Stockton, 75, said recently. “I remember Arrowhead Junior High School. I remember Pacific High School. I remember living just above the railroad tracks on 30th (Street), below the golf course.

“San Bernardino was, to me, like Redlands is now, but San Bernardino has gone another direction. You’ve got to start somewhere, and I think it starts with the kids.”

That’s where The First Tee comes in.

Well-known across the United States for its work with youth through golf, the organization has arrived in the Inland Empire — and specifically the I-10 corridor — with an official I.E. chapter gaining approval last month after two years of planning, organizing and fundraising.

The First Tee is a youth development program that bills itself as “introducing the game of golf and its inherent values to young people.” The organization centers on its nine core values it stresses to kids — courtesy, judgment, honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility and perseverance.

According to its web site, The First Tee “served more than 5.3 million young people in 2016.”

“People have to understand, The First Tee doesn’t build golfers,” Stockton said.

“I don’t care if they play golf or not. I want to build people.”

If, in fact, it was just about some kids putting around after school — and they do that, too — then it would be a nice tale to tell. But The First Tee and its chapter directors believe the program fills more than one need in the Inland Empire.

A quick search of golf headlines from the past year include, “Why Fewer People are Golfing” (Bloomberg), “The Death of Golf” (Men’s Journal) and the “Rapid Decline of Golf” (Politicus Sports). The articles c

ite the game’s high costs for both playing and equipment, country club exclusivity and length of play — rounds that go on for 5-6 hours in some cases — as reasons for declining popularity. Though not the primary goal, the hope is re-introducing golf to a new generation can re-energize interest.

Secondly, bringing it to San Bernardino was a priority. Already stung by a bankruptcy filing and an economic downturn that traces back to the closing of Norton Air Force base in the early 1990s, the Dec. 2, 2015, attack at Inland Regional Center further stigmatized the city. Monday’s shooting at North Park Elementary School continued that stigma.

“I look at San Bernardino, and I don’t remember San Bernardino being this way,” said Stockton, a Pacific High School graduate.

Thirdly, the Inland chapter may be a way to save a piece of San Bernardino Golf Club — known by locals simply as “Waterman” — which is slated for future closure and development.

Stockton and fellow San Bernardino native J.T. Visbal, who heads the Inland chapter, envision a golf facility on the backside of what presently is the par-70 course — the part of the course on the west side of the Santa Ana River — that would include up to as many as six holes, a putting green, and driving range.

“We’re not quite sure of the complete structure of what we’re going to build there,” Stockton said. “We have a good chance to build some holes where the kids would be able to come out and play and let the community utilize it.”
The First Tee’s Inland chapter has been a labor of love for Visbal, who in 1994 was instrumental in starting the Wooden Classic at Honda Center.

It took two years to gain chapter status. A boost in funding, including six-figure donations from Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital and Stater Bros., the Yucaipa-born and San Bernardino-based grocery chain, helped the chapter gain the required funding. The late Jack Brown, Stater Bros.’ former executive chairman, was a good friend of Stockton’s. The company has a track record of community involvement.

The chapter already ran clinics, or “drive classes” set up at the back of Burrage Mansion property in Redlands. There, program development director Jay Larson — another San Bernardino native and Pacific graduate — instructs as elementary-age kids putt, chip and hit on a three-hole mini-course built on a tree-lined piece of land. Drive classes have also been held at Yucaipa Valley Golf Club and Colton Golf Club. Larson is a former club pro, former triathlete and Champions Tour Q-School finalist.

On Monday, the chapter held its first life skills course — a more in-depth clinic focusing on the full curriculum of the nine core values — after a ribbon-cutting opening at Yucaipa Valley.

“It’s a full involved, full-integrated program,” Visbal said.
Elise Powell, a 10-year-old, fourth grader at Judson & Brown Elementary School in Redlands, attends drive classes frequently. Her mother, Dawn, likes what she sees.

“She has an opportunity to learn a skill that most kids don’t have an opportunity to learn,” she said at a recent class. “She enjoys it. I was asking that on the way here today. She said she looks forward to continuing.”

“I was actually talking to her about going to Pebble Beach one day,” she added.



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