Tee-off at The First Tee

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

Sunday was a great day for golf in more ways than one.

Not only was the spring weather (finally) lovely, it was also ribbon-cutting and tee-off day for The First Tee’s new Carolinas Life Skills and Leadership Academy (CLSLA).

The First Tee’s new state-of-the-art $1.5 million, 11,000-square-foot academy, tucked at the end of a winding dirt road in The Golf Park at Cinghiale Creek off Royal Oak Boulevard in Shallotte, is where founders Rusty and Carol Petrea and others gathered under blue skies to celebrate its completion.

Among those celebrating was general contractor Betsy Braddock Palmer of Braddock Built Renovations, leading a tour of the facility, including its industrial-strength kitchen and quarters for summertime male and female youth campers and counselors. The dorm rooms are equipped with wooden bunk beds made and donated by volunteers.

Palmer and her bricks-and-mortar team “facilitated every aspect of building this building, from the raw dirt to what we have now,” she said.

Working with skilled labor donated for the project, it has all come together like a symphony, she said.

Slated for its first eight weeks of camp this summer, the new academy will house up to 50 campers, 16 counselors and has a “full, beautiful restaurant kitchen” staffed by off-season cafeteria workers from Brunswick County Schools, Palmer said.

First Tee supporter Kimmie Patrice Durham outlined the nine core values of the seven-year-old nonprofit group—honesty, integrity, courtesy, respect, judgment, responsibility, confidence, perseverance and sportsmanship. Palmer noted the flagship chapter of the Carol S. Petrea Youth Golf Foundation here in Brunswick County is amazing.

“We are privileged to have this type of chapter right here for our kids,” she said, adding they’ll be bringing in youth from all over the country at no cost.


Petreas’ vision

Funding for the facility has come about mostly through contributions, Palmer said, adding her company built it pro bono.

“It’s also all the vendors, all of the subcontractors that have helped us along the way, that have been willing to work with us to make this happen,” she said. “We managed all of the people that put every bit of this piece of the puzzle together.”

Separate golf-training rooms will be equipped with a computerized screen with “netting all around it,” said First Tee volunteer Jimmy Durham, as well as a rubberized floor. There’s also plenty of storage, including a golf baggage room.

The facility overlooks scenic Cinghiale Creek and park.

It’s because of Carol and Rusty Petrea’s vision that the place exists, project manager Jim Braddock said.

“And they made it happen,” he said. “I’m talking about the entire First Tee of Brunswick County.”

The Petreas provided the original pineland acreage for the 28-acre campus off Royal Oak Boulevard, coupled with another 10 acres loaned by the McLamb family. Pro golfer Tom Watson designed the double-ended driving range at the site, Braddock said.

“We’re very delighted to have this opportunity to bring golf—but also the Leadership Academy to the children of Brunswick County and the Carolinas and hopefully the nation,” Carol Petrea said.

When she and her husband, both retired Naval officers, moved here, “I didn’t see many things for children to do,” she said. “I knew that the game of golf had a lot of opportunities, especially as they advanced in life.”

When her husband started to build the course, she said they needed to let children know what the game of golf is about.

“We really liked what The First Tee does in terms of the nine core values, bringing character education,” she said.

Inside this new building, “kids can learn about leadership and being a leader—being able to take what they are learning in the middle school and high school and then apply that to their life,” she said.


Long journey

“This has been a long, long, long journey,” Rusty Petrea said at the start of Sunday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“It took a lot of leadership to get to this day,” he said, outlining academy camp this summer that will include 25 students from each of all four high schools in Brunswick County.

“We’re going to have a good representation of our teenagers from Brunswick County this summer,” he said, adding all eight academies this summer will be for 400 scholarship students at no cost to them.

Academy director Terry Mauney said young people are coming from as far as Miami, Fla., Washington, D.C. and Memphis, Tenn.

But it’s not just a summer program.

Petrea said First Tee coaches will have an opportunity to use the building year-round to accommodate programs on nights and weekends.

The facility was built “on the backs of contributions of individuals only,” Petrea said. “We have not been going to any corporate financial support.”

Linda Bradley, board vice chair of the Carol S. Petrea Youth Golf Foundation, said she’s proud to be part of the organization.

“I would like all of you to give a round of applause to the vision, the tenacity, the leadership of Rusty and Carol Petrea,” she said, drawing a hearty response.

One of the things they teach their youth participants is the difference between dreams and setting goals—“turning your dreams into reality,” Bradley said. “These two wonderful people have done just that. They’ve done it unselfishly. They’ve done it for the benefit of the children of Brunswick County to begin with.”

That reach has now been extended to Georgetown, S.C., up to New Bern, she said.

“I don’t think that any of us can ever thank [them] enough for what they have given back,” Bradley said, adding support for the program is always welcome—“your time, your prayers, your money—anything that you can do to make sure that this dream grows and continues.”

The Golf Club at Cinghiale Creek is a three-green, 18-tee golf course, with a practice putting green clubhouse and learning center for sole use by The First Tee participants. Children ages 7-18 living in Brunswick County are able to join The First Tee of Brunswick County “to experience golf skills and life skills in a fun and exciting environment.”

The First Tee of Brunswick County welcomes donations to go toward construction costs of the new facility.

For more information, log onto www.TheFirstTeeBrunswickCounty or call The First Tee office (910) 754-5288.


Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.