The First Tee Roanoke Valley Looks To Exciting Year In 2017

(L-R) Delta Dental VP of Marketing Chris Pyle is joined by First Tee Roanoke members Callie Montgomery, Ross Funderburke and executive director Jennifer Blackwood for the presentation of last year’s $17,000 check during the State Open of Virginia at Ballyhack.


2017 promises to be another strong year for The First Tee Roanoke Valley as it has kicked off the season with a Champions Tour appearance by two of its members, has well-enrolled classes ready to start in March and several key events on the calendar planned for later in the year.

According to Jennifer Blackwood, executive director of the Roanoke Chapter since its inception in 2004, The First Tee Roanoke Valley is again looking for the same underlying success they saw in 2016: Growth.

“We definitely are growing,” Blackwood recently noted. “In 2016 we saw over 7300 children in our partnerships and school programs which include physical education classes that offer an introduction to golf. We had about a 9% growth rate last year.”

That keeps First Tee Roanoke’s PGA lead instructor, Bill Rader, very busy. Rader visits schools throughout the chapter’s network that includes the Roanoke area, Franklin County and Rockbridge County. He also oversees instruction at the chapter’s main campus in Northwest Roanoke, where kids from 7 to 18 progress through several levels of advancement, regardless of background or previous experience.

The goal is to help shape the lives of young people from all walks of life by reinforcing the nine core values of The First Tee: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgement.

In mid-February, Roanoke First Tee members Alisa Caraballo and John Hatcher Ferguson headed to Naples, Florida to participate in the PGA Champions Tour Chubb Classic Golf to Paradise First Tee Champion Challenge. The three day event included 12 First Tee Chapters from throughout the country. First Tee Roanoke excelled, and finished second, narrowly being edged out by The First Tee of the Twin Cities (Minnesota).

On May 19-21, the 34th Annual Scott Robertson Memorial will bring the top junior golfers in the world to Roanoke Country Club. PGA TOUR pros Kevin Na, Hunter Mahan, Webb Simpson and Smylie Kaufman, along with LPGA standouts Brooke Henderson, Paula Creamer and Kristy McPherson have all made stops at The Scott Robertson on their way to the big stage.

First Tee Roanoke will be looking forward to The Greenbrier Classic Youth Day during this year’s PGA TOUR’s Greenbrier Classic held over the Fourth of July week in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. A full day of youth activities center around First Tee, which have included in the past a luncheon hosted by Jim Justice, a youth clinic and the $10,000 First Tee Scramble – a  three hole scramble format that includes a PGA pro teamed with members of First Tee Roanoke Valley and First Tee West Virginia.

July also brings the Delta Dental Virginia State Open at Ballyhack Golf Club. First Tee Roanoke was the prime beneficiary in 2016, receiving a check for $17,000 at the event from Delta Dental, along with sponsoring bodies, the VSGA and Mid-Atlantic PGA.

September offers one of the most prestigious events on The First Tee calendar when the Champions Tour Nature Valley First Tee Open joins forces with select First Tee participants at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.

2016 saw a pair of First Tee Roanoke members, Callie Montgomery and Ross Funderburke travel to the Monterey Peninsula to be paired with a Champions Tour pro. Funderburke made the most of the opportunity as he and pro partner Billy Andrade finished in a three-way tie for first place.

“We’re now in the process of submitting applications for this year’s national events,” Blackwood points out. “Hopefully, we will have two of our chapter members selected to compete again this year at Pebble Beech. It’s a huge honor for every player.”

Fall wraps up with the 6th annual First Tee Parent-Child Tournament September 23-24 at Roanoke Country Club.

You don’t have to be young to have fun with The First Tee. The chapter is always looking for volunteers to help with tournaments and classes. “We love volunteers and they can help in lots of ways,” Blackwood says. “Whether one time or on a consistent basis, during a tournament or class delivery, volunteers make everything run smoothly.”

First Tee is always looking for donations, and with those gifts count on the generosity of the community to fund its programs. More happens at The First Tee of Roanoke because donations directly impact programs being delivered to each and every student. Every gift, no matter the size, matters. Monetary gifts as well as golf equipment are key in the chapter’s success.

For junior golfers it’s time to get ready for golf and the fun times at The First Tee. You may be the next player living the dream that others have encountered. But, most of all, you’ll benefit from the life lessons and being a better person by taking part in what First Tee has to offer.

Bill Turner