Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Golf nonprofit swings into Charlottesville’s Ix Business Park

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Though the nonprofit group has operated in the Charlottesville area for nearly a decade, First Tee-Virginia Blue Ridge is just now putting down physical roots in Charlottesville’s Ix Business Park.

First Tee, a youth development organization focused on empowering children ages 5 through 18 through golf, signed a lease for roughly 3,700 square feet in the facility in order to provide the ideal work environment: offices for its 10 full- and part-time employees; educational rooms for training and mentorships; as well as three golf simulators and putting and chip areas for practice sessions.

“Technology is a tremendous draw to our target audiences,” First Tee-Virginia Blue Ridge Chairman Thomas Vetrano said in a statement. “It was a priority to curate a dedicated space equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities that would capture the attention of our participants and their families, and advance our mission and positive impact here in the Charlottesville community.”

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The new facility is a “game-changer,” according to Executive Director Derek Norberg, as prior to Ix, First Tee had relied on partnerships with golf courses and other businesses in the region, including Boar’s Head Resort and Meadowcreek Golf Course. Its coverage area extends from the city of Charlottesville to the counties of Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Nelson, Culpeper and Orange.

Derek Norberg


First Tee-Virginia Blue Ridge is one of the national organization’s 150 chapters instructing underserved youth on its nine core values, such as integrity, respect and perseverance, with the game of golf for free or at a reduced cost. Founded in 1997 in partnership with the PGA Tour, Ladies Professional Golf Association and the Masters Tournament Foundation, First Tee now reaches more than 3.4 million youth with 1,700 U.S. locations and six international.

Within Central Virginia in 2023, the golfing program worked with more than 350 children while also providing physical education courses to an additional 8,000 students through partnerships with school divisions in the region.

While the connection may not be evident to nongolfers, Norberg draws many parallels between the sport and children’s personal development.

“In today’s environment, everything comes at you at a high rate of speed, and playing golf has the knack to slow things down, force participants to consider circumstances and make correct decisions,” he said in his own statement. “Success and failure in golf is based solely on the practice and performance of a single person making a series of choices during a round. In turn, this teaches discipline, perseverance, humility, and goal-setting.”

A team of trained coaches, mentors and volunteers organize the nonprofit group’s programs, allowing them to advance both their golf and social skills over the years through the initiative’s different stages.


The layout of First Tee’s space at Charlottesville’s Ix Business Park.

“We are extremely proud that many of our First Tee graduates have returned home to become teachers and mentors themselves,” Norberg said. “They realize the positive impact that First Tee had on their lives, whether it was overcoming social anxiety, making lifetime friends, being steered in the right direction by a coach or finding a new lifelong passion in golf.”

To ensure financial barriers don’t prohibit any child from participating, full or partial scholarships are made available to low-income families. First Tee relies entirely on private philanthropy, fundraising events and registration fees to cover its operational costs. One such fundraiser, the 2024 First Tee Invitational, will take place on Oct. 7 at the Farmington Country Club.

As for its recent move into the Ix Business Park, Executive Vice President of MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Service Sam Orr, who represented First Tee in the leasing transaction, said that the space is perfectly situated in the center of Charlottesville.

Sam Orr.jpg


“The site is situated within close proximity to many of the students and families currently served by First Tee, and this location was specifically chosen to provide convenience for the next wave of students and families to be served,” said Orr, who recently joined First Tee’s board of directors. “The program will feed off the existing energy and vibrancy of Ix Business Park, while also adding another destination tenant to the mix.”

Several of its new neighbors at Ix are also involved in the nonprofit sector, such as the Greater Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity, Computers4Kids and the Thomas Jefferson Adult Education Center.

“We will now have a homebase for our students and staff enabling us to make a greater impact on the lives of local youth,” said Norberg. “Having our own space means we can schedule future programming with confidence allowing First Tee and our partners to be even more creative and intentional about opportunities offered.”

Emily Hemphill (540) 855-0362

@EmilyHemphill06 on X

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