HomeBlocksFront-GridSan Marino Resident Holdsworth Helps Drive Home the Power of Golf

San Marino Resident Holdsworth Helps Drive Home the Power of Golf

By Jonathan Williams

The First Tee is a youth development organization that uses golf as a platform to teach life skills and character education to young people.

It aims to make a positive impact on students’ lives by providing educational programs that promote character development, instill life-enhancing values, and encourage healthy choices through the game of golf.

Mark Holdsworth, a San Marino resident, has served for the past five years as president of the board at the First Tee of Greater Pasadena.

“Golf teaches so many life lessons,” Holdsworth said. “First Tee is all about utilizing the game of golf to help young people with life lessons, which I think is very valuable.”

Since its inception, the organization’s more than 150 branches have served between 250,000 to 270,000 students worldwide. In addition to learning the game of golf, a cornerstone is the First Tee’s nine core values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

Holdsworth emphasized the nine core values being at the root of it all, stemming from his own passion to be a part of the organization. He understands what the First Tee’s impact can be, providing kids the opportunity to play the game he loves, while also understanding the value of mentorship.

Having played golf since his youth, Holdsworth was one day watching TV and an advertisement appeared on the screen for the First Tee. After a quick search on his computer, his interest was piqued by the organization’s mission.

Holdsworth graduated from Polytechnic School in Pasadena and played golf at Pomona College, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics. Shortly after, he attended Caltech, earning a bachelor’s in engineering and applied science. Finally, he graduated with an MBA from the Harvard Business School.

“We’re really a mentorship program,” Holdsworth said of the First Tee. “Golf is the vehicle [for these kids]…they’re not on the couch. They’re not in front of screens. They’re doing something healthy.”

Photo by Jonathan Williams / Mark Fritz (left) has been director of programs and development for the First Tee of Greater Pasadena for 15 years.

The group has two programs, ranging in price from free to $160 over eight weeks at courses like Brookside Golf Course and several others. Golf clubs are provided to all participants.

Using Brookside Golf Course as its home base, the nonprofit hosts an annual golf tournament and raises thousands of dollars for the organization, which usually sells out by July, according to longtime executive director Bob Baderian.

In some circles, golf is seen as an exclusive sport accessed at private country clubs, and the cost for a public course game can run about $50 or more.

The First Tee helps take a potential financial strain out of the equation. “It’s about giving boys and girls of every race and ethnicity the opportunity to participate,” Baderian said.

Mark Fritz, director of programs and development, and Gary Moody, a coach with the First Tee of Greater Pasadena, share a laugh on the putting green at Brookside Golf Course on a recent Wednesday morning.

Fritz has been the director of programming and development for The First Tee since 2008.

“I wake up every day and Wednesday and do this class,” he said. “It helps me put into perspective why the administrative stuff is so important; it’s because of classes like this.”

Meanwhile, Moody spent 30 years working in mental health rehabilitation, serving as the president of the NAACP of Pasadena, and meeting Fritz while participating in community events throughout the years.

“Once you get involved with service,” Moody said, “it’s food for the soul.”

On a recent day, they were preparing for the arrival of clients from the Running Waters Day Program, which provides services to individuals who have developmental and/or intellectual disabilities. Handshakes, hugs and three buckets of driving range balls waited for them, as they headed out to the private driving range not usually open to course goers.

“It’s life-altering for me,” Moody said, “The reward is knowing that you’ve touched somebody, making a difference.”

Tribune file photo / Bob Baderian, executive director of the local First Tee program, is pictured with Rob Shepherd and First Tee board chair Mark Holdsworth.

Two years ago, Fritz saw the Running Waters Program at the course and approached them with the idea of starting a group for adults with disabilities.

Fritz spent his morning gathering golf equipment, which is free for all who attend the Wednesday class. Moody spent his time hugging the students he’s created a bond with over the last two years.

This particular class began with cycling through the entire golf bag, teaching the differences between a driver and a long iron.

For the day, confidence and perseverance were the focus.

“Let’s get to work guys,” Fritz said.

During the hourlong lesson, it was a gallery of joy, positivity and encouragement, embodying what the First Tee works so hard to put into practice.

As the day concluded, the two coaches asked the group what two things they could take away. “Joy” and “fun” were some of the words the group responded with.

On Wednesdays, Fritz and Moody spend their mornings driving the game of golf into the hearts of those who need it, speaking to the First Tee of Greater Pasadena’s commitment to the community, a promise that’s been kept for nearly two decades.

Fist bumps and hugs all around. Next week they’ll be back on the first tee, doing it all again.

First published in the Feb. 22 issue of the San Marino Tribune


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