On Grand Strand Golf: Tilghman and Rymer returning for junior benefit tied to new Cudone scholarship
By Alan Blondin
Golf Channel personalities and South Carolina natives Kelly Tilghman and Charlie Rymer are returning to the Grand Strand this summer to support the area’s First Tee junior golf program and provide it with some national exposure on the network.
North Myrtle Beach’s Tilghman and Fort Mill’s Rymer are participating for the third consecutive year in The First Tee of the Grand Strand’s 2015 Todd Weldon Memorial Future Generations Tournament at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club on July 28 and intend to film live segments that day on the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive show.
One First Tee junior from Horry, Georgetown or Brunswick (N.C.) counties will be joining each group in the event for the first time, and the tournament marks the introduction of the Carolyn Cudone Memorial Scholarship Fund that will be administered by The First Tee.
“I’m very excited about the growth we’ve had in just a few years,” Tilghman said. “There are still details to be worked out, but we have small additions this year and that’s the goal, to grow it a little bit each and every year and move it in the right direction.”
Tilghman said the hits on Morning Drive will incorporate outstanding First Tee members and recognize the people who have made the local First Tee and tournament happen.
“Part of the process of growing a tournament is spreading the word about what you’re doing, and the Morning Drive hits have been an excellent vehicle for that,” Tilghman said. “Morning Drive has really helped with the messaging.”
The First Tee of the Grand Strand provides golf instruction and character building, stressing nine core values to the youth in Horry and Georgetown counties, and is operated through a foundation that also oversees the highly successful First Tee of Brunswick County.
The tournament costs $1,000 per three-person teams, which are nearly sold out, and additional sponsorships are available. The entry fee for the 18-hole scramble event includes a golf shirt, hat, Cudone memorial coin, continental breakfast, box lunch and post-round awards party with dinner and cocktails. Interested players or sponsors can contact First Tee of the Grand Strand executive director Rich Abraham at 843-325-6787 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tilghman proposed having First Tee members with each group.
“We thought it would help the people supporting the event see and understand the young people they are supporting,” Tilghman said. “They can see how much they’re benefiting from the program and how much help they need from the community.”
Cudone is this year’s tournament honoree in addition to being the namesake of the scholarship fund.
Cudone, who moved to the Strand in 1966 and died in 2009, is one of the greatest female champions in the history of the United States Golf Association and is the founder of the Myrtle Beach Junior Golf Program.
Her streak of five consecutive U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur Championships from 1968-72 is the longest stretch of consecutive wins in any USGA championship. She also claimed seven South Carolina Women’s Amateurs among her many other titles.
Cudone started the junior program in 1981 and ran it as a volunteer for 21 years with the help of her sister, Billie Mosher of Calabash, N.C., until she handed over the reins at the age of 83. It later merged with a program run by the South Carolina Junior Golf Association.
Cudone’s program included instruction, competitions, etiquette and the collection and free distribution of clubs.
“What Carolyn did matches our vision,” Abraham said. “She was The First Tee before The First Tee.”
Prior to her program, Cudone called a meeting with many of the golf professionals in the area, and according to Gene Weldon, the head pro at Gator Hole at the time, she set them back in their seats when she decried the area’s junior golf efforts. Weldon recalled Cudone saying, “You all call yourselves the seaside golf capital of the world and you’ve got no kids playing golf.”
“Everybody in that room jumped on the bandwagon and she got it done with our help,” Weldon said. “She didn’t take no for an answer, and we did what she told us to do.”
Weldon said a key to the program, which cost no more than $100 annually during Cudone’s tenure, was that Cudone paid assistant pros at clubs a small stipend to do the teaching, ensuring the kids were receiving quality instruction. “I believe that’s what made the program so successful,” Weldon said.
Cudone’s program helped numerous area juniors attain national rankings and college golf scholarships.
A portion of The First Tee’s fundraising moving forward will be dedicated to the fund and donations directly to the fund are also being accepted.
Abraham said the organization would like to award scholarships of at least $5,000 per year beginning in the near future to high school students attending higher education. Students with First Tee experience will receive strong consideration, though Abraham said all area students who exhibit The First Tee’s nine core values and are involved in golf will be considered.
Though Tilghman traveled as a youth on the American Junior Golf Association and other circuits en route to earning a scholarship to Duke and wasn’t part of Cudone’s program, Cudone took an active role in her development.
“Carolyn was a huge mentor in my life,” Tilghman said. “She took a particular interest in me. I looked up to her because she was confident, she was sweet and honest and sincere and a decorated golfer. She always went out of her way to look at my swing, talk to me about my approach to the game and ask what my next step was. She had a lot to do with my confidence as a junior golfer.”
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