Senior Open Champ Gives Back

November 9, 2007

By David Shefter, USGA

Far Hills, N.J. - Brad Bryant is known around the Champions Tour as a man who is gracious with his time. And that reputation carries far beyond actual competitions for the reigning U.S. Senior Open champion.

Brad Bryant tips his hat on the 72nd hole after realizing he's about to win this year's U.S. Senior Open. (John Mummert/USGA)

For the third consecutive year, the Floridian, along with his younger PGA Tour-playing brother, Bart, will host the annual Family Holiday Celebration at the Lakeland YMCA Par 3 golf facility that also serves as The First Tee of Lakeland chapter. LPGA Tour player Wendy Doolan also is scheduled to participate in the golf clinic Nov. 17 from to

All individuals, regardless of age or ability, are encouraged to attend, with free turkeys being given to the first 100 families. Kids will receive toys from Santa and there will be free food and refreshments.

"We want to reach out to the community," said Brad Bryant, who rallied with a final-round 68 to win the Senior Open this past July at Whistling Straits by three strokes. "That is certainly what The First Tee is trying to do.

"This fall event is geared to the entire family, not just the kids. The reason we do that is because we never see the parents. This gives us a chance to get to know the parents of our First Tee kids."

The Family Holiday Celebration is one of two charity events that Bryant does for the YMCA of West Central Florida and TFT. In February, he participates in Barkley, Bean, Bryant and Friends, a golf tournament played on the par-3 course with Charles Barkley, Champions Tour player Andy Bean and other corporate leaders that netted $183,000 for the YMCA Par 3 and TFT of Lakeland this past year.

Some 700 to 1,000 people pay an admission fee to see the festivities.

"It's our largest fundraiser," said Kirk Smith, the Executive Director of the YMCA Par 3, Home of The First Tee of Lakeland. "That event is geared toward sponsors.

"This [event on Nov. 17] is Brad's way of giving back to people who are not as upscale. It doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter what your bank account looks like. We want you to come out and have some fun."

Brad and Bart, along with Doolan, will perform a variety of shots and demonstrate basic techniques. Sometimes they invite some of the older TFT participants up to hit a few shots as well. The chapter annually has some 750 participants in its year-round programs.

"Those guys are hams," said Smith of the two Bryants. "They will act silly for a while and crack some jokes. They will talk about [fundamentals], so it's a very informative clinic."

Santa will even make a cameo during the clinic and hand out toys to the kids. At the event's conclusion, all three professionals will be available for autographs.

The facility itself dates back to 1957 when the Publix Supermarket chain built the par-3 course for its employees and administrators. It later served as a public venue for the city of Lakeland, where a young Fred Ridley learned the game. Ridley would go on to win the 1975 U.S. Amateur and later serve as a USA Walker Cup captain and USGA president (2004-05). In March of 2002, Publix announced it was closing the 18-hole facility that also featured a lighted driving range. The YMCA of West Central Florida was asked to initiate the construction and renovation of the course and as a result, Publix provided a 15-year lease at $1 per year.

In August of 2003 the facility became a chapter of The First Tee, and a year later the USGA provided the first of four grants. The $100,000 initial grant went toward the construction and renovation of the par-3 course and lighted practice facility, a project that was overseen by Lakeland resident and current USGA Executive Committee member Steve Smyers. His wife, former LPGA Tour player Sharon Smyers, led the capital campaign that has raised more than $1 million from community donations.

The USGA has assisted the past three years with grants totaling $140,000 for instruction costs. The renovated facility opened in March of 2005 with TFT programming beginning shortly thereafter.

A majority of the program's participants come from economically challenged families. But the facility also holds clinics for home-schooled kids, the housing authority, Boys and Girls Clubs, Girl Scouts, Rochelle School of Arts and hosts an adaptive golf clinic for individuals with disabilities. A competitive summer golf tour also is held at the facility for advanced participants. Through the grants and other monies raised in the community, participants receive instruction and range access free of charge.

"The demographic part that we serve is a pretty challenging population in this area," said Smith. "We have a lot of economically challenged families. It's an area that is very much underserved and I think Brad and his brother just want to give back. So we get a chance to help those kids."

DavidShefteris a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org . USGA Media Relations stafferPeteKowalskicontributed to this story.

  
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