Golf, a sport usually associated with opulence and business deals, is being redefined by young minority players by programs that make it accessible for them to play. The First Tee of Miami, which operates out of different golf courses including Melreese Country Club, is one of the programs that help minority and special needs players tee off by providing coaching, mentoring and equipment at little to no cost to the players.
But as the Miami City Commission deliberates the plans for the voter-approved Miami Freedom Park slated to be built in Melreese Park, some fear the program and its initiatives could be replaced for soccer and retail stores.
The First Tee of Miami works with the Professional Golfers Association to help give youth of all backgrounds an opportunity to learn the game. One of its initiative, the PGA Jr. League, is now open in the Miami market and gives children under 13 years old an opportunity to practice and play matches in the same location.
“Diversity and inclusion are our biggest goals in all of these programs,” said John Moscoso, program director of First Tee of Miami. Many children and parents think golf is inaccessible because of the expensive gear and and green fees, but the different programs sponsored by First Tee allow children to explore those interests, Moscoso said.
More than 5,000 young people benefit from several programs that First Tee offers.
Linda Tamargo is one of the parents who never thought of her children playing golf until she became involved with First Tee. Tamargo, who is still recovering from damages caused by Hurricane Irma, has found golf and Melreese Park an escape.
“This is our safe haven; this is our oasis. We come here and everyone is family,” she said.
Her daughter, Sara Matos, 13, plays at Melreese Country Club and fear plans for a soccer stadium could erase all the different programs offered at the park.
“I call the golf course my oasis,” Sara said. “When I swing a golf club, it means everything to me.”
Matos has been playing the game for four years after realizing that ballet was not for her. Through the game, she has learned perseverance, responsibility, sportsmanship and honesty. More than just teaching proper swing technique, the programs sponsored by First Tee aim to instill the inherent core values of golf into the young players, Moscoso said.
“There are no referees out on the golf course. When you play, you are the referee; you call the penalties on your own and there is no need for anyone to call them for you,” he said. “It is a big responsibility to take on as a child. The idea is for them to view the game of golf as the game of life, where you have to make quick judgments and those judgments are going to be based on the core values that you have been practicing on a consistent basis.”
Sara, who developed a true passion for the sport, has gone to City Commission meetings to voice her concerns about the Miami Freedom Park project.
“This course is my home. I practice here and made so many friends here. To watch it be demolished for a soccer stadium would break my heart,” she said.
The Miami Freedom Park was approved by voters in November and would transform the land where Melreese Country Club sits into an all-inclusive entertainment destination featuring a soccer stadium, hotels and retail stores. Since November, the city has been mum on the status of the project. On Thursday, the City Commission is scheduled to address the current status of negotiations for the proposed ground lease and the master development plan agreement.
Sara hopes to continue to play in Melreese Country Club into adulthood. “It is something special,” she said.