Opening The Door To
This article is the fifth in a series celebrating 10 years and
$50 million in USGA grants.
January 31, 2007
By Blair D. Bodine, USGA
He is known as "The Godfather" of Fresno, Calif.,
area junior golf. After 60 years of promoting junior golf
and youth tournaments, has garnered an impressive lot of
godchildren in the process. Since its inception in 1992, the
Valley Junior Golf Foundation (VJGF) - a USGA supported program -
has reached more than 1,500 youths per year.
"I see golf as a catalyst to teaching all the good
things, like honesty, integrity and respect," said the
The VJGF offers free golf clinics to students in the local
public school system. Kids that show considerable interest in the
game are encouraged to attend subsequent lessons.
seeks to bring golf to all youth who might not otherwise have
the chance to play, even when they are initially unreceptive to
the discipline of the game.
"Discipline is taught through kindness and
understanding," said . "You always find jewels if you
look hard enough for them."
Sometimes didn't have far to look; sometimes they found
him. In 1997, Van Le, then 15, knocked on ' front
door. She had heard about the golf programs that were
taking place in her own neighborhood.
The demure Le had never played before. got her into a clinic,
and Le later became a graduate of the Fresno-Greater San Joaquin
Valley Junior Golf Foundation.
It seems as if was always there to open the door.
Economically disadvantaged youth that enter the program are given
a free set of golf clubs, a bag, golf balls and even golf
shoes. However, once involved in VJGF, the participants
have to show their commitment to the program. , a former
schoolteacher and principal, requires that all participants'
grades are tracked. Students are not allowed to participate
if their academic performance declines.
Making the grade was never a problem for Le. In high
school she graduated first in her class. She wrote her
college admissions essay on the impact that golf had on her
life. The topic served her well. Le was accepted to
Stanford University on a scholarship that VJGF helped her
secure. In a community where 75 percent of the students
live near or below the poverty line, attending such a prestigious
university seems unachievable. But not to Le.
In 2003, just before she graduated from with honors, Le looked
back on the surreal impact that the junior golf program had on
her life, calling it "a sort of Cinderella
Like countless youth, VJGF supplied her with instruction,
equipment, scholarships to golf camps, and yes, even shoes.
But ultimately, it was the intangible things that really made a
"Golf provided me with the little push I needed to get
out of my shell," Le wrote. "My approach to life has
changed. I stand with courage, in the face of failure and
success. I've been shown the importance of patience and
perseverance, especially when things look tough.
"People always laugh when I say I would probably be out
on the streets had it not been for junior golf. And while this is
a bit of an exaggeration, the truth is not far
The Cinderella story, however, isn't complete without a
fairy-tale wedding. In high school, Le's friends would
laugh when she swore she would one day get married on a golf
course. And when the special day arrived last year?
"They all thought I was joking," laughed Le.
"But I actually did get married on a golf course. That's
how much the game meant to me!"
Le now works for UC Berkeley, as a financial analyst in the
English Department. remains close. "They kind of
adopt you," chuckled. When her husband's parents
couldn't attend a Vietnamese engagement ceremony, Le had and
his wife stand in as parents of the groom.
Evidently, means as much to his students as they do to
him. When the VJGF planned to construct a Junior Golf
Learning Center, it was a past participant that helped to turn
the dream into a reality. The Learning Center consists of a
practice facility and a hitting area, as well as a building
containing a library, study room and a pro shop. Matty
Matoian, a former student, donated all the land upon which the
Leaning Center was built, and continues to offer support.
Matoian wasn't the only past participant who chipped in.
estimated that a dozen former VJGF students, who are now adults,
donated funds to help construct the Learning Center. The
Learning Center will focus on serving youth in a one-mile radius,
where 98 percent are on the Federal Free or Reduced Lunch
When asked how VJGF plans on instructing 1,500 participants
per year, said: "Almost all the golf pros in Fresno and
surrounding areas have been my students. Most of them help
With VJGF, there never seems to be a shortage of helping
hands. In the past 10 years, participants have gone onto higher
education and employment throughout the country. VJGF has
helped to shape community leaders, professional golfers, city
officials and teachers, truly having a global impact through
local programming. More than a decade of difference has had a
stellar impact. Remarkable potential exists; the proof lies in
individuals, such as Le, who inspires with their poignant
All it took was for someone to open the door.
is a First-Year Fellow in the USGA Grants and Fellowship
office. For more information about TheFresno-GreaterSan JoaquinValleyJunior Golf Foundation, please contact her at(719) 471-4810, ext. 17or at email@example.com