First Tee Roanoke Sending Trio To Champions Tour Event At Pebble Beach

When opportunity knocks, First Tee Roanoke answers the door.
Three First Tee Roanoke members have earned the right to play in the PURE Insurance Championship Impacting The First Tee, one of the most exciting stops on the PGA TOUR Champions schedule played annually at the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.
Ashton Harper, Slade Aliff and Caroline Gilreath will head to the Monterey Peninsula for the week-long event September 20-26. The 54-hole tournament features 81 PGA TOUR Champions professionals, 81 First Tee juniors and 162 amateurs.
Beginning in 2004, The PURE Insurance Championship quickly became one of the most favorite events among the Champion pros playing with First Tee members. The format consists of three concurrent competitions-Professionals in individual competition; Pro-junior Team with male or female members of The First Tee; Amateur Team with foursome net best ball. The total purse for the pros is $ 2,100,000 and the tournament chairman is Clint Eastwood.
Prior professional Champion TOUR winners have included Hale Irwin, Bernard Langer, three-time winners Jeff Sluman and Kirk Triplett, along with defending champion Jim Furyk. Tom Watson has likewise been a former competitor on the same course where one of the most memorable shots in golf took place; his chip-in from the rough on the par-3 17th hole that secured Watson’s 1982 U.S. Open Championship.
First Tee Roanoke’s Ashton Harper will lead a trio of players from Roanoke’s chapter, including Slade Aliff and Catherine Gilreath. Harper qualified by selection and by exemption after winning the First Tee National Championship last month. (Bill Turner photo).

Harper, Aliff and Gilreath will enjoy an all-expenses paid trip to California, including airfare, accommodations, nightly banquets and special events that include outstanding well-known speakers, plus the opportunity to play a total of five rounds at Pebble Beach and nearby Spyglass Hill Golf Course on the Monterey Peninsula. Currently, green fees for a round at Pebble Beach are $ 575, not including cart fee or caddy fee of $ 75 plus tip. Accommodations throughout the region are equally exclusive.

Receiving three spots for First Tee Roanoke members is a reflection of both the outstanding staff at the local chapter, plus determination and commitment of its junior players. Only 81 spots were available for over 200 First Tee chapters across the country. This year’s teens represent 48 First Tee chapters in the U.S., and for the first time a participant from First Tee-Morocco will be in the field. Participants are selected after local evaluations by a national panel of judges based on their personal growth and life skills learned through First Tee programs, as well as their playing ability. The process is intense.
“Our members apply and are interviewed in house with a diverse panel of board members and volunteers,” First Tee Roanoke PGA Pro and Leads Instructor Bill Rader said during an interview for this article. “The applications are reviewed again and there is a third evaluation before the final selection is made by the First Tee headquarters in Florida. It’s a very competitive field of outstanding First Tee members from across the country that must be reduced to 81.”
“We have talented youth and were very fortunate to have three members selected,” First Tee Executive Director Jennifer Blackwood noted. “These three young golfers will bring our chapter to 18 members having been selected for Pebble Beach through the years beginning with Parker Davis in 2004. This opportunity is really prenominal and a win-win situation. We get a lot of support from the community. Our junior members display a lot of leadership. They are engaged and give back to us by being invested in the First Tee Roanoke chapter, even after they move on to bigger things later in life.”
The First Tee is a nonprofit youth development organization with golf programs centered on building character through their Nine Core Values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance courtesy and judgement. The Roanoke chapter has various programs all year long for girls and boys to learn the game of golf, having fun along the way. Being selected for Pebble Beach is just one of many exceptional opportunities that are available.
The full junior field was revealed on Golf Channel’s “Golf Today” and the annual event is televised internationally on Golf Channel.
“Congratulations to the 81 participants who have been selected to play and represent First Tee on a national stage,” said Greg McLaughlin, First Tee CEO. “We are proud to welcome a participant from First Tee-Morocco into the field this year who is joining the other teens in earning this opportunity through hard work and commitment to academic and personal growth through our programs. Thank you to our partners- PURE Insurance, PGA TOUR Champions, Pebble Beach Resorts, Monterey Peninsula Foundation and Golf Channel- for their commitment to young people and helping us provide the opportunity to these deserving teens.”
PGA Professional, Major winner and Virginia native Lanny Wadkins previously commented on this opportunity.
“I can’t even imagine,” Wadkins noted. “Where I came from and going out and playing, to come out here and do this at that age would be mind-boggling. It’s such a great opportunity for these youngsters, not only to be here playing with these pros, some of their heroes and people they look up to. So, this is such a wonderful week for these young people being here, doing this.”
For Ashton Harper, he used a little insurance to secure his spot at Pebble Beach. Although, unknown to him at the time, he had already been selected to be one of the 81 juniors. But, in late-June he won the first-ever First Tee National Championship at Clemson University’s The Walker Course, showcasing 24 boys and girls ages 14-19 among The First Tee’s elite golfers. Shooting 69-70-68 and making birdie on the first hole of a playoff to clinch the tournament victory, the win gave Harper an automatic exemption to play at Pebble Beach.
The PURE Insurance Champions tournament will be broadcast on Golf Channel on Friday, September, 24 !:00-4:00 pm Live; Saturday, September 25 12-3 pm Live; Sunday September 26 12-3pm Live. The final round will be contested solely at Pebble Beach Golf Links on Sunday, where 23 First Tee juniors will compete based on their 36-hole performance. The tournament will crown one male and one female First Tee Junior Champion on Sunday.
Junior golfers are always welcome to join the First Tee Roanoke chapter regardless of their skill level, financial status or equipment needs. Programs to improve their game and learn the character-building game of golf leads to new opportunities and making new friends. With determination and dedication anyone can be the next junior down the road earning that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent First Tee Roanoke at Pebble Beach.
Bill Turner

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