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The First Tee of Tucson: Keeping Kids on the Right Course

March 23, 2015

By Joan Liess, Special to

Brothers Evan and Jayden Ritterbach are members of The First Tee of Tucson.

What inspires the Tucson Conquistadores to work as hard as they do on their golf tournaments and other fundraising events? Providing as many kids as possible, especially less fortunate ones, with the character-building experience of participating in sports.

The Conquistadores’ dedication to golf and youth athletics came full circle in 2006, when the group established a chapter of the The First Tee at Trini Alvarez--El Rio Golf Course. The program is designed to create affordable and accessible facilities for young people who have never had access to golf and its positive values.

It started with a $2.9 million renovation of El Rio financed by a partnership of the PGA TOUR, the City of Tucson and the Conquistadores. PGA TOUR Design Services and Tucson golf course architect Ken Kavanaugh helped make the facility more accessible for youth play by adding junior tees and incorporating a three-hole, par-3 course into the driving range. In 2010, the Conquistadores opened The First Tee of Tucson Learning Center to better execute the life skills program.     

On most Wednesdays and Saturdays, volunteeer coach Rich Ladera can be found circled by kids on the practice range or helping a member with math homework in the computer room in the Learning Cener. The retired Raytheon engineer and recreational golfer, best known as Coach Rich, combines his career and life experiences to positively impact kids' lives.

He whole-heartily believes in The First Tee's goal to provide character education and life skills programs to help young people be successful in school and in life. "We're not teaching you to become the next Tiger Woods, we're preparing you to be a good citizen," said Coach Rich who came onboard in Fall 2009. "They start to realize this is not all about golf, but acquiring skills to succeed. For them, the program is working."

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