Danny Priester, We Salute
Here's one very good reason why the USGA
proudly supports junior golf programs around the
country: Danny Priester, of Fairway Outreach of
February 18, 2009
By Rhonda Glenn, USGA
The rocky brown ravines of our nation's war zones are
far removed from the gentle green fairways of Junior Golf
Land in Columbia, S.C. For that matter, so are the
pine-studded proving grounds of Fort Benning in Columbus,
Danny Priester, Jr., is headed for war.
|Danny Priester's mother,
Valerie, said golf suited him because he was always an
independent person. (Russell Kirk/USGA)|
A recent graduate of West Point and newly minted second
lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Priester, 24, now hoists an
M-4 rifle instead of a golf bag. Boots, helmet and digital
camouflage replaced the standard issue of another time --
softspikes, golf visor and shirt.
Priester darts through the pines, shouting orders
instead of voicing the soft intonations of the most
civilized game on earth.
The training is intense. But Priester knows about tough
spots, hard choices and doing his duty. He remembers the
troubled turn his life took growing up in Columbia. He
remembers taking on jobs to help his mother after his
father died. Cleaning up the University of South Carolina's
football stadium after games in the fall. Ringing a bell
for the Salvation Army during the Christmas season. Working
on community beautification projects during summer.
A crucial part of Second Lieutenant Danny Priester's
route out of a challenging childhood in South Carolina, to
the study halls and parade grounds of West Point, to
leading his troops overseas can be explained in one word:
Golf. Indeed, for those who want to put a face on the
long-awaited impact of "the Tiger Boom" unleashed
at Augusta National Golf Club in 1997, look no further than
"When Tiger won The Masters, that's what turned the
bulb on," says Priester, who was 13 at the time.
"How fun he made it look. I wanted to be a part of
that. I asked my great uncles, Alvin Walker and Charles
Samuel, and my granddaddy, Henry Walker, who play golf a
lot, about getting me to the driving range. Then a friend
got me into the Fairway Outreach program. From there it was
Fairway Outreach is a well-regarded youth program that
brings golf, faith and life skills together for young
people in the Columbia, S.C., area. It's supported by a
range of local and national groups, including the USGA,
which gave the South Carolina Junior Golf Association
(SCJGA) $100,000 to build a nine-hole course for Fairway
Outreach in 1996. The SCJGA also supports a number of
Junior Golf Land facilities - nine-hole layouts and
practice ranges that are designed to encourage
underprivileged and minority youths to become involved with
"I consider myself a lifelong member of Fairway
Outreach, and the lessons I learned in the program played a
big role in preparing me for West Point," Priester
said. "I made some great friends during those years.
This was the guiding light for me and a lot of other
inner-city guys. It put us with a lot of good and positive
people who showed us outlets to be successful."
Bobby Foster, the former head golf coach at the
University of South Carolina, has been chairman of Fairway
Outreach for more than 20 years; Priester is one of his
"When he I first met Danny, he was skinny, always
polite, reasonably measured in his tone of voice, very
personable and always smiling," Foster recalls.
"He always said 'please' and 'thank you.' His mother,
Valerie Priester, who came to our functions, is the same
Danny, an only child, was growing up just fine. He made
good grades in school and learned the rudiments of golf
from Foster. But in January, 2001, when Danny was a
sophomore at A.C. Flora High School, tragedy struck. The
Priesters' home caught fire and burned to the ground.
Danny's father, Danny Priester Sr., was killed in the
Gus Sylvan, a board member of Fairway Outreach, pitched
in to help the Priester family after the fire. Other
friends from Danny's junior golf program and high school
also stepped up to help however they could.
"The outpouring of support from students was
overwhelming," says O'Tasha Morgan, counselor at A.C.
Flora High School. "They donated new clothing, money
and other essentials. One of his classes donated more than
$300 from their own pockets."
Danny was devastated by the loss of his father, but he
"It hit me in the heart, put some things in
perspective and emphasized for me being focused, being
there for my mom," said Danny. "Now I don't take
a day for granted. I don't forget the importance of
spending time with family."
Trey Holland, USGA president in 2000-01, played golf
with Priester while visiting the Fairway Outreach program.
Holland remembers being "dusted" that day by
Danny and his golf buddy, Montrele Wells.
"Danny was a quiet kid that day, but he got along
well with his friends and he was amazingly well
behaved," Holland said. "He has dealt with
terrible adversity. After his dad died in the fire, it was
his mom who dogged him to continually do the right thing
and make the right decisions. It was also Fairway Outreach
that was a safe haven for him during that time."
Valerie Priester is fully cognizant of what the game and
the Fairway Outreach program have done for her son.
"Golf kept him focused," she said. "Danny is
an independent person, and in the game of golf you have to
do your own thing, so it suited him. Fairway Outreach did a
lot for Danny. Danny is a man of faith, and the program
related to that."
Danny took odd jobs to help his mother but made time for
Flora High School's golf team, contributing with a solid
3.4 Handicap Index. He played in a few tournaments
including, in 2001, the World Scholar Athlete Games. Flora
won the state 3-A high school golf championship in Danny's
|Danny Priester, left, spends much
of his time off duty with the neighborhood kids like
Jacodi T. Young, center, and Justin Spann, right.
He maintained a 3.5 grade average and was a leader of
the junior ROTC program. And throughout high school, he
stayed connected to Fairway Outreach and Bobby Foster,
happy to help the program that had helped him. Once, he was
a guest speaker at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes
function in Loxahatchee, Fla., sharing the podium with Jack
and Barbara Nicklaus and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.
Barbara Nicklaus later told Foster, "I don't mind
following Jack and Tim as a speaker, but that's a pretty
tough assignment, following Danny!"
When Priester's senior year rolled around, it was time
for Danny to think about his future. At first, he
considered the University of South Carolina, where he could
try out for the golf team.
"It most definitely was decision time, because I
loved the game," Priester said, "but I also knew
how prestigious the education was at West Point and how
many doors would open for me if I went there. Also, college
is so expensive."
To the delight of Holland, Foster and many others,
Priester accepted an appointment to the United States
Military Academy at West Point. He first spent time at West
Point Preparatory School to ready himself for the Point's
tough academic program. He played on the West Point golf
team his freshman and sophomore years (and was on the
boxing team as a junior) before putting aside sports to
concentrate on his books.
Priester tossed his hat into the air with his fellow
cadets at the West Point graduation ceremony on May 31,
2008. "It was an incredible experience at West Point
and a great chance to mature and get my priorities in order
for the rest of my life," Priester said. Following a
summertime stint at Ranger School, he joined his unit at
Fort Benning for 13 weeks of training.
"West Point showed me a lot about myself, what I
was capable of," Priester said. "I kind of take
it day by day. I'm a Second Lieutenant now and brand new to
my profession, but I'll eventually try to pass on to
someone else who is coming along."
He spoke so highly of the military that his buddy
Montrele Wells, who earned a Physics degree at Benedict
College, decided to sign up.
"Danny is one of my best friends and I see how he
loves the military, so I'm joining the U.S. Navy,"
Priester is taking some of golf's lessons into his
training for deployment.
"Patience and the focus," he said. "You
can't let distractions get in the way. One swing at a time,
one shot at a time. One mission. One order. One plan at a
Foster says his former charge is one of his heroes.
"Danny's about ten times tougher than I am," said
Foster. "I know he's stronger emotionally and
physically than I am."
Priester credits his family and his mother for providing
his motivation. "Seeing how strong she was, it gave me
a lot of strength," he said. "I had a lot of
support from my family, them backing me so hard. I didn't
want to let them down."
There are kids of humble means who are knocked
off-stride by the hazards of fate early on and wander
through life, aimless and without purpose. Heck, there are
kids from privileged backgrounds, with childhoods
encompassing too much of everything but love and guidance,
who never make it, either.
Then there are kids on the pinnacle of a great pyramid
of effort. Parents, friends, teachers, coaches and sports
programs help them grow up to become leaders, to inspire
us, to become a meaningful part of society. Danny Priester,
Jr., Fairway Outreach alumni, West Point class of 2008, is
one of those kids.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the
USGA. E-mail her with questions or comments at