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His game, their gain

The game of golf has almost always been at the core of Vincent Reid's life. But for Reid it's more than a game. It's a metaphor for life.

"In golf, you rule yourself. You're not out to undo anyone but you still compete," said Reid, whose reputation for teaching the game almost surpasses his standing as a first-rate golfer. "You can spend four or five hours in fierce competition, then shake hands and have dinner together. There's a kinship."

Reid, golf pro at Ace Golf Range on Linebaugh Avenue, also is director of the Vincent Reid Youth Foundation, which serves children with disabilities and their families.

"I think golf was my destiny," said Reid, who also spent more than eight years as the director of junior golf for the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation in Clearwater. "Now I'm involved with teaching golf to disabled kids."

Founded in 2000, the Vincent Reid Foundation concentrates on helping Tampa Bay's children with developmental disabilities gain greater independence. Golf professionals and volunteers teach the fundamentals of the game, including its physical aspects, rules and etiquette.

"More people need to be touched by the game of golf," Reid said. "It's the only sport where a player calls a penalty on himself, or says, "I'm guilty. This is what happened.' "

Those are some of the lessons that Reid, 50, says he hopes to impart as he teaches children the proper way to hold a club, stand, or place the ball on a tee.

"It doesn't matter if he's working on golf, holding a meeting or having a pizza _ he makes the kids come alive and see the best in themselves," said Kara Johnson, whose 11-year-old daughter Brooke suffers from attention deficit and bipolar disorders. "It's not just about golf but it's about how to treat other people, how to be respectful."

If you asked Reid who taught him respect as a child growing up in public housing in Greensboro, N.C., he would say his mother, Janie Reid.

"She's one of the strongest women I've ever met in my life," Reid said. "She kept our family together."

For his mother, the job of keeping nine children clothed and fed entailed getting up at 4 a.m. and spending half the day on a bus, traveling between the two houses that she cleaned every day, Reid said.

It was as a youth in Greensboro that Reid was exposed to golf. The experience was fraught with highs and lows.

"My friends and I used to watch these guys hitting a ball and walking around the putting green," Reid said. "I thought that was the stupidest, silliest little white ball. That was my first impression."

That impression changed, however, when one of his friends started getting paid by the bucket for balls he retrieved.

"This is an opportunity," Reid recalled thinking. "I must have shagged four or five buckets and had $10 or $12. For an eighth-grader I was rich."

Retrieving balls soon graduated to the greater opportunity of caddying.

"It was a pretty good source of income on the weekends," Reid said. He started caddying on a regular basis, drifting away from other sports such as football and basketball.

Before long, golf had become more than a moneymaking venture. It was becoming a passion.

"The longer you were there, you got with the better players," said Reid, remembering how he and his friends would gather at the practice green after hours. He said they put sticks in holes, placed a Pepsi cup on top, "and became fairly good strikers."

They also because fairly good escape artists.

That's because after hours they "would cut through the trees on the back side at the fourth and fifth holes and practice," Reid said. "Then the owner would come out and run us off, but we'd jump into the bushes and he never caught us."

The owner eventually relented and let them play during off hours. And the more Reid played, the better a golfer he became.

"He's an incredible ball striker," said Kennie Sims, head golf pro at Babe Zaharias Golf Course and Country Club in Forest Hills.

Sims was one of the first people Reid met when he moved to Tampa more than 20 years ago. They became friends and played golf nearly every day. Then, when Reid competed in regional professional tournaments, Sims caddied for him.

"It was awesome to be around him," Sims said.

Reid, who was introduced to golf though caddying, said he is saddened that golf carts have replaced caddies, mainly because it was a good way to introduce young people to the game.

"Now you have a couple of generations of kids not exposed to golf," Reid said.

He said he wants to change that trend. With that in mind, he has started numerous junior golf programs in cities such as Anniston, Ala.; Dayton, Ohio; and New Orleans. He always made sure disabled kids were included in those programs. But it wasn't until he joined the Chi Chi Rodriguez Foundation that he was able to work with disabled youth in a major way.

"They were blind, in wheelchairs, couldn't hold a club," Reid said. "It was the culmination of what I'd been working for."

To that end, Reid, who lives with his 10-year-old daughter Lor-en in Town 'N Country, decided to take those experiences and create his own charitable foundation. The Vincent Reid Foundation focuses on helping kids with special needs gain greater independence.

At its heart is the game of golf.

"Golf has been so good to me. Without it I don't know what I would have been," Reid said, sitting behind his desk at Ace, surrounded by golf gear, memorabilia and photographs. "I know it would not have been illegal. But I also know I wouldn't have touched any lives. And it would not have been nearly as much fun."

Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 269-5308 or ripleysptimes.com.

Vincent Reid

When did you know you wanted to include children with special needs in sports?

"In college. There was always a group of kids on the sidelines, not participating. I wanted to know why and my coach said, "They're retarded. There's nothing they can do.' "

Why the move from Dayton to Tampa?

"I had the burning desire to play more golf. My car was covered with snow and I saw a commercial on TV with a guy in a pool, saying, "Have it bad? Want it good? Come to Florida.' I packed my bags."

Where was your first stop?

"Rogers Park. I played or practiced from sunrise to sunset."

What are your goals for the foundation?

"To get golf into public schools. In Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco there are 23,000 children with handicaps. Through golf you can teach life skills, etiquette, even math.

So, after all this time and all this success, are you still tempted to jump in the bushes at the 4 and 5 holes and run?

"Yes."

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