By Sean Tubbs
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
The directors of First Tee of Charlottesville asked the City Council Tuesday to keep local golfers in mind as they consider the future of the eastern half of McIntire Park .
A master planning process to determine the future of the park is currently underway, and the organization is hopeful that golf will continue to have a home there in some form.
“No one here is averse to having another facility,” said Wayne Hall, the chair of First Tee of Charlottesville’s advisory board. “[But] the question is where, and how much. You already have golf at McIntire. It can be [kept] in part of the park.”
The meeting was attended by Councilors Dave Norris , Dede Smith and Kristin Szakos . Councilor Kathy Galvin and Mayor Satyendra Huja did not attend.
The First Tee Program is part of the Parks and Recreation Department , but is also a chapter of a national organization that has over 200 branches. The city entered into a contract with the group in 2004, and that contract expires in 2019.
Sue Parson, associate director of Central Atlantic regional affairs for The First Tee, said the program teaches core values that are embodied in the game of golf and aims to instill resilience, the ability to set goals and interpersonal skills.
“Do you know how many people don’t know how to look someone in the eye and shake their hand?” Parson asked. “This is what we mean when we talk about life skills, and when they’re off the course, they can still use it.”
In 2011, the program had 402 children enrolled. More than half of them came from Albemarle County, and 30 percent came from the city of Charlottesville .
The First Tee budget for the current fiscal year is $93,000, but some of that is offset by revenue from the McIntire Golf Course. City staff say about $60,000 of the funding comes from the city’s annual budget.
Szakos said she did not question the value of the program, but added that nonprofit agencies that offer similar services to promote youth development have to petition the city for funding each year. Their proposals are reviewed by a special task force to see which are most cost-effective.
“First Tee is outside of that and it is getting way more than any of them,” Szakos said. “As a steward of public land and public funding, I need to obtain the most bang for the least buck. [First Tee is] a lovely bang, but it’s a really big buck.”
Norris said he also supported the program, but wanted to know more information about how it would operate if the council decides to close the golf course at McIntire Park .
“What are the physical requirements for First Tee? If we as a community say we want to support the program and grow it even more, what are the alternatives and what are the options?” Norris asked.
“The contract calls for a course suitable for youth play,” said Phillip Seay, the director of the First Tee program and a city employee. He said that most children that could use the nearby public Meadowcreek Golf Course at one time is 24, whereas up to 80 children can simultaneously use McIntire Park’s course.
Seay said he is willing to adjust the program if need be, but that the First Tee program operates well at McIntire.
“From the staging area I can see everyone,” Seay said. “We can get to them quickly if they need assistance.”
Helen Flamini , the president of a group seeking to build a botanical garden where the golf course is now, also attended the meeting. She suggested that First Tee could be accommodated at Pen Park , either at Meadowcreek or at a new course built specifically for youth.
“The only option we can see if we don’t have McIntire Park at this point is to shut down nine holes at Meadowcreek during [First Tee] programs,” said Jeff Sharff, a member of the advisory board. “We can’t have a bunch of kids walking around showing them a bunker when the public is playing.”
Many members of the First Tee board said they are open to sharing the course with a botanical garden or other uses.
“You can share it so that it can be used on certain days by non-golfers,” said Scott Brown. “They can use bikes, running paths and have First Tee use the course on certain days. That way you could bring more people into the park.”
Brian Daly , director of the city’s parks and recreation, said no preliminary plans have been made about will happen to First Tee should the council opt to end golf at McIntire Park.
“The master planning process is the community’s decision about the land use,” Daly said. “No design can happen until the decision is made.”
The Parks and Recreation Board will have a public hearing on the master plan on Monday at 6:00 p.m. at Buford Middle School . It will not take a vote until their meeting in May. After that the plan will go before the Planning Commission and the City Council .