- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

I feel like pulling my old golf clubs out of the closet and dusting them off to use for something other than beating self-serving politicians.

Indeed, this just may go down as a happy, historic time in which adults and children in the nation’s capital celebrate when a new tiger, as in golfer Tiger Woods, claimed our hometown as his own.

That’s, of course, if all goes according to some pretty heady long-range plans.

Whisked through the requisite Washington power centers Wednesday, Woods announced his plans to make this region a premiere spot on the PGA Tour, earmark the proceeds for his foundation, build a learning center and give away free tickets to members of the military and children younger than 12.

“This is a pretty momentous day for us, and I just wish my father could have been here to see it,” said Woods at the National Press Club. The world’s greatest golfer had talked with his father, Earl, who died last summer, about the Tour, the patriotic venue and the educational mission.

No doubt his dad would be extremely proud of their dream realized. Count them as two positive public role models this area’s youth desperately need. Also, role models for other rich athletes to give back to their fans and disadvantaged communities.

The prospect of a $25 million learning center, similar to Woods’ California model that helps youngsters dream about bigger and brighter futures, being built in the Washington region is enough to make this Sistagirl sing hallelujah, like she just hit a hole in one.

As The Washington Times’ Tom Loverro reported earlier this week, D.C. lawyer and sports agent Jeff Fried announced a pilot program to bring a golf tournament to Coolidge High School this spring. The aim is not only to teach about the gentleman’s or gentlewoman’s sport but the honorable life skills it imparts.

But there is another unheralded academic and sports program for 500 D.C. students — the Interpretive Education Center — that has been putting along for a decade under the guidance of Jimmy Garvin, president of Langston Legacy Golf Corp., which operates Langston, East Potomac and Rock Creek public courses in partnership with the National Park Service.

“Golf is the carrot, education is the key. They can’t all be professional golfers but we can prepare them for other things in life,” Mr. Garvin said.

The 55-acre site abutting the Anacostia River in the Kenilworth Park area surrounding the historic Langston Golf Course would be a perfect place for Woods’ learning center.

“We’ve been doing that same model, without money, for the last 10 years. It would be a boost to us if [Woods] helped us in our efforts,” Mr. Garvin told me yesterday. “It would give our young folks an opportunity to see that they can be in the business aspects of golf.”

Like several black golfers I spoke too, Mr. Garvin was excited about the prospect of Woods’ involvement in D.C. golfing circles. He hopes the golf superstar “will pay homage” and shed a renewed spotlight on the historic Langston course, which was the first to open for black golfers in 1939, but is in the midst of raising $15 million for renovations.

“Golf was a forbidden sport for African Americans for such a long time, but Tiger Woods made a lot of people dust off their golf clubs and get back at it again,” he said.

Mr. Garvin’s youth golfing program, which includes an international team that competes in the Bahamas each spring, stresses academics first, golfing and sports management second. A pet project to develop a nine-hole youth course next to Langston is still in the planning and fundraising stages.

Local businessman Joseph Johnson, an avid golfer, suggested that the Woods Foundation follow the example set by the Tennis and Learning Center in Southeast.

“This is a good two-fer for the city,” he said. “There is so much excitement; it’s off the scale. This should bring everybody together.”

Wow, the Fourth of July fireworks show on the Mall and the AT&T; National, most likely at the Congressional Country Club — where I saw the rookie Woods play in the U.S. Open in 1997 — means even more tourism dollars for area coffers.

What a welcome windfall if only regional politicians finally learn an important lesson from the Woods’ venture — a sporting event can be held without raiding the public till.

Our regional tax dollars have helped to erect expensive sports venues, but D.C. children, for example, have few decent places to play or practice. D.C. schools don’t even have an athletic budget.

Athletes such as former Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripkin have stepped up to provide baseball gear for city schools. We’re still waiting for Major League Baseball to follow suit in exchange for that megamillion-dollar monstrosity growing out of the Anacostia riverbed.

So far, we haven’t hear one word from Woods and his partners about seeking government funding for his projects, which is as it should be.

As Mr. Johnson said, “Tiger Woods was not put on this earth to do things for the black community. … Besides, he has given back. And, as an African American, I’m proud of him because he’s at the top of his game and he worked hard for it.”

More important, Tiger Woods’ achievements are now poised to provide a positive all-around win-win for our hometown youths and the entire Washington metropolitan region.

I wish him well.

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