CHATTANOOGAN.COM; by Paul Payne — The Tennessee Golf Foundation staged their annual TGF Pro-Am Tournament this week at Council Fire Golf Club, one of several events state-wide that help fund the organization’s growing impact on the sport.
But the roots of the foundation can be traced to the vision and generosity of Chattanooga philanthropist and The Honors Course founder, Jack Lupton, according to TGF president Whit Turnbow.
“We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Jack Lupton,” Turnbow said. “Dick Horton, my predecessor, took the idea to Mr. Lupton to create a foundation back in the ‘80s and he responded by putting the first few million dollars into the foundation. Now we have an almost $20 million endowment that is benefitting many across the state.
“Mr. Lupton actually bought the house where Golf House is located in Franklin, and The Honors Course logo sit out front. There’s a reason for that. He had his fingers in so many things that people don’t know the depths of what he did for amateur golf.”
TGF impacts young golfers through its programs across the state such as The Sneds Tour, Kids Play Free, First Tee of Tennessee and the academy and teaching center outside of Nashville. Events like this week’s Pro-Am, which has been around for more than two decades, allow exposure and funding for the foundation’s initiatives in the Chattanooga area.
“This event has been around for a long time, and it’s one people look forward to each year,” said Turnbow, who assumed his role in 2018 after serving 15 years as MTSU golf coach. “Over 40,000 kids from Bristol to Memphis participate in our programming in some way, and events like these help us make everything more affordable and accessible for kids. That’s how we’re going to grow the game by eliminating the cost as much as possible.”
Kids Play Free, now supported by PGA Tour golfer Scott Stallings, has resulted in roughly 30,000 free rounds of golf across Tennessee over the past ten years. The Sneds Tour, the junior golf tour backed by PGA Tour player Brandt Snedeker and the Snedekar Family Foundation, has generated over 11,000 rounds. First Tee of Tennessee is now in 45 locations state-wide, and the academy will generate 300 clinics and 2,000 private lessons this year.
“We have a very unique model here in Tennessee in that both the amateur and professional bodies work every day in a collaborative manner,” Turnbow said. “Most states don’t have a foundation, and there’s always a fight over money. But in Tennessee both are focused with the common mission of promoting the game for future generations.”
With the popularity growing exponentially during the pandemic, Turnow said it is critical to recognize that the traditional model for golf is evolving.
“During Covid we discussed how we meet the wave of new golfers where they are,” Turnbow said. “They want shorter rounds and more social ways to play. We’re trying to meet that need. This generation asks the right questions and we’re wanting to create opportunities for this new demand.”
In the TGF Pro-Am that concluded Tuesday, Nashville’s Josh Bevell recorded the low score among the 27 professionals with a score of 10-under 134. In the team competition, Council Fire golf professional Brandon Arnold teamed with Shane Melton, Brendon Wilson and Brad Clark to shoot 41-under to win by five shots in the format that combined one Best Ball Gross with one Best Ball Net.
The 2024 tournament will be conducted July 1-2 at The Honors Course and Council Fire.
Paul Payne can be emailed at email@example.com