When Brandon Fowler, a junior at Robert E. Lee High School, was five years old, he started taking golf lessons through the First Tee program at Brentwood Golf Course, located off Golfair Blvd. on Jacksonville’s northside. At one point he considered quitting, but his coach, Ron Castillo, encouraged him with this simple advice: “Just come out here and have fun.”
Fowler did just that, and he’s kept on swinging ever since. He is now an ACE level participant, the highest certification possible in the First Tee, a nationwide youth development organization that teaches life skills through golf.
“[First Tee] really helps with life goals,” said Fowler, who aims to pursue a career in entrepreneurship. “It’s going to help you get to what you want to accomplish in life.”
Earlier this summer, Fowler, alongside three fellow participants from First Tee, accomplished one of his goals: teeing it up on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass for the very first time. The Stadium Course is best recognized for its 17th hole, the ‘Island Green,’ and is also home to THE PLAYERS Championship, the PGA TOUR’s flagship tournament that has been won by the game’s top players: Jack Nicklaus. Fred Couples. Tiger Woods. Rory McIlroy…the list goes on.
The round was made possible thanks to the generosity of Chet Stokes, general manager at Marsh Landing Country Club and former First Tee volunteer. Organizers of the outing took it one step further by pairing the First Tee golfers with PGA TOUR employees as their caddies.
“The First Tee is all about mentorship,” said Jeff Willoughby, executive director of First Tee of North Florida. “[The golfers] are going to build lifelong relationships with their caddies, whether it’s a mentor for career exploration or just somebody they can call on when they get stuck in a bind.”
Had it not been for the First Tee, Brandon Fowler, Mombo Ngu, Grace Richards and Matthew Yang may never have stepped foot onto THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. But the moment that they confidently launched their tee shots down the fairway of the first hole symbolized what the round of golf was all about:
“Anything is possible,” said Ngu. “Me being here and hopefully some kid who is clicking on that screen seeing my face would be encouraged to say, ‘Hey, why not do something that everyone else says isn’t for me?...You can do whatever you want as long as you have your heart and passion for it.”
So, what’s next for this talented foursome?
Brandon Fowler shared his new goal without hesitation: “I’m going to try my best to get back here.”