- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

When Jimmy Garvin was growing up in poverty in rural Florida, someone reached out a helping hand and gave him hope. When Mr. Garvin was older and able to offer help and hope to others, he did just that, using a golf club to accomplish his work.

For 15 years, Mr. Garvin has worked at one of the most historic golf courses in the country, the District’s Langston Golf Course, where he runs programs in which children learn to play the game, study and earn academic and golf scholarships.

For his work, Mr. Garvin will be inducted into the African American Golfers Hall of Fame on May 29 in Phoenix. The District will honor him on Saturday with “James Garvin Day,” and there will be a dinner for him at Langston that night.

“Most kids are good kids,” said Mr. Garvin, the president of Langston Legacy Golf Corp., a subsidiary of the company that operates the course. “They just need to see that they have options other than what is sometimes all around them. They need to see positive role models.”

Others also give time and money to run minority youth programs at Langston, including Ray Savoy, the founder and director of the Langston Junior Boys & Girls Golf Club; Felton Mason of Mason’s Army; and Byron Harper, the founder and president of Golf Exposure.

The godfather of them all is Mr. Garvin, who offers the children not just golf but an education.

The Jimmy Garvin Legacy Foundation provides need-based college scholarships of $3,000 to $4,000. Mr. Garvin helped establish an academic learning center at the course and a satellite education center at nearby Charles Young Elementary School. Nearly 400 children use the education center every year, as well as some parents working for their high-school equivalency degrees.

Then there is the golf. Langston hosts the First Tee, a national youth development program. Under another program, Mr. Garvin each January takes 25 junior players to a tournament in the Bahamas, and the Bahamian golfers travel to Washington in July to play the Langston children.

Mr. Harper said Mr. Garvin created the atmosphere, in the shadow of a tough neighborhood near the Carver and Langston public housing projects, in which these programs flourish.

“Jimmy has been instrumental for us,” he said. “Without him, we would not have the access that we do. A lot of programs, kids can work on the driving range, but to actually get on the golf course is something that is very huge. A lot of general managers don’t want these kids on the course. And he has raised the money to get the computers and equipment in here. We are very blessed to have someone like Jimmy Garvin. He is a true trailblazer.”

The trail began for the 49-year-old Mr. Garvin in Immokalee, Fla., a small town not far from the swamps of the Everglades and the town of Naples on the western coast of the state. He was one of five children — the only son — and worked in the fields with his mother, a migrant farm worker. His father worked as a logger in the swamps, hooking up trees for removal.

“We had no running water, no indoor toilet. … It was a situation where you had to fight to get out,” Mr. Garvin said.

His father died when he was 14 and still in high school. He was a solid student, a three-sport athlete with a talent for music. But the burden on his mother to rear five children alone was too much, and Mr. Garvin faced the prospect of quitting school to provide her with help.

But Mr. Garvin had grown close to a guidance counselor at Immokalee High School, Florence Jenks, and she took him into her home.

“She was my godmother, if you will,” Mr. Garvin said. “She was one of the folks who had a steadying influence on me and took me in to live with her. I was a smart kid that needed some support.”

He finished school and earned a scholarship in music from the University of Kentucky. But fate intervened: Former Washington Senator and Howard University baseball coach Chuck Hinton heard good scouting reports about Mr. Garvin, stayed in touch with him and offered him a scholarship.

That is how Jimmy Garvin found golf as his calling.

“When we would go on team road trips down South during spring break, Chuck would get up and go to the golf course,” Mr. Garvin said. “I was an early riser, so I would get up and go with him because I knew if I did, I would get a good breakfast. Finally, he said if I was going to tag along, I would have to learn how to play golf. So I started working on my game.

“Those days were inspirational to me. I was gathering wisdom that I would use to guide me in my life.”

Mr. Garvin graduated from Howard in 1978 and began work for the Marriott Corporation in its health care division at Children’s Hospital. He also began working part time on the grounds crew at Rock Creek Park Golf Course, learning the business. He eventually worked full time for Golf Course Specialists, which operates Langston, and arrived at that course in 1990.

Langston now is owned by the National Park Service and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It opened in 1939 as a nine-hole course, expanding to 18 holes in 1956.

Langston welcomed black players at a time when they were not allowed on many courses in the United States. The only place blacks could play in the District before Langston opened was the course now known as West Potomac Park.

At one time, Langston attracted celebrities and big-name golfers: boxer Joe Louis, singer Billy Eckstine, Olympian Jim Thorpe and golfers Lee Elder and Charles Sifford. It fell on tough times, though, in the late 1970s and was in danger of being closed for good when Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke considered purchasing the land for a new stadium.

But Langston began a comeback when Mr. Garvin arrived, and now it is breaking new ground again with its programs that offer opportunities for minority youths in the District and the surrounding areas.

“It was tough when we first got started,” Mr. Garvin said. “We were in the worst area in the city. The windows were all wired up, and there was a lot of damage. At first, it was hard to reach the kids and grab them and show them there was something better than vandalizing and getting in trouble. So we went up in the schools around here and started enrolling kids.

“It is still a struggle, but we have come a long way and I think we have really made a positive impact on the negative stuff around here.”

Jerrell Parish, 14, of Glendale, Md., is making the most of the opportunities at Langston. He has won 10 of the 11 tournaments in which he has played, and he hopes to make the team at DeMatha High School as a freshman next year and eventually go to college on a golf scholarship.

“Mr. Garvin has made so many things possible for us,” said Jerrell, who spent a recent Saturday morning washing cars with Mr. Garvin and others at Langston for a fundraiser. “He took us to the Bahamas to play golf, and that was great. We lost the cup, but we are going to get it back in July.”

Jerrell and five other children will accompany Mr. Garvin to Phoenix for his induction into the Hall of Fame. After all, it is because of Jerrell Parish and other children like him that Jimmy Garvin is being so honored. They are his legacy.

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