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GOLF TOURNEY'S GREENS WILL GET GROWING FIELD

More slots are added for the African-American Club event that will benefit children.

The African-American Club of Hernando County's annual golf tournament has become so popular over the last dozen years that not only are players coming in from outside the county for this year's event, so, too, are golf carts.

The field is expanding from 128 players to 144 for the Feb. 15-17 fundraising event at the Brooksville Golf and Country Club, meaning the club has to import more carts to meet the demand of reservations, said organizer Gordon Fleming.

This success story had humble beginnings.

Fleming recalled that when he moved to Hernando County from Detroit in 1995, he was dismayed that there were no events encouraging African-American golfers.

Working with the United Golf Association, a national group that promotes golf to black players, Fleming had organized such activities in Detroit that were both enjoyable to golfers and profitable to the charities. With the help of the African-American Club, he launched the tournament here.

Fleming pointed out that the entire Hernando County golfing community has supported the event over the last dozen years. "If it hadn't been for white golfers, (the tournament) never would have taken root," he said, adding that golfers of all races have always been welcome to play.

The original field of 128 golfers filled early this month, mostly repeat players from Detroit, Boston, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, Arizona. "Detroit still has the largest contingent," Fleming noted.

By adding 16 playing opportunities this year, the club hopes to attract more local golfers.

The first day is the African-American Club Memorial Scramble, named to honor the deceased members of the club. Information about the event is available at www.aac-hc.net.

The proceeds will benefit the local unit of the national nonprofit organization, Take Stock in Children.

Eva Davis, director of the local chapter of Take Stock, based at Pasco-Hernando Community College's Brooksville campus, recently spoke to the African-American Club's board of directors about the organization's scholarship program.

The board voted unanimously to support the organization's efforts that target low-income and possibly at-risk kids in seventh grade, providing a scholarship of up to four years in college if the youths follow the rules.

"They've already gotten our check," said Fleming, referring to the $5,000 raised at last year's tournament. The African-American Club aims to sponsor one or two students a year, and organizers hope proceeds from this year's tournament will reach $10,000.

Davis explained that students are chosen for the Take Stock program based on economic conditions, essays expressing their desire to go to college and to succeed in life.

Parents and students sign contracts to ensure the student stays in school, attains good grades, maintains good attendance, keeps a good attitude and remains free of drugs and criminal activity.

Davis monitors the progress of the students, who are also provided with mentors, which include staff at PHCC, at their middle and high schools, and volunteers from the business community. The mentors meet with the students each week, "showing the child that they care and encourage, motivate, inspire them to become productive citizens."

In return, the students receive a scholarship to a two-year community college. If they are successful there, they are eligible for another two-year scholarship to complete a bachelor's degree at a four-year institution.

"Our scholarship is worth about $10,000," Davis said, noting that the group's financial aid is matched by the state through the Pre-Paid College program.

Take Stock began in Hernando in 2001 with 14 students and has graduated about 25 students through a four-year college or vocational school program to date, Davis said. "We have a 98 percent graduation rate," she said.

"This is such a great idea to me,'' Fleming said. "This is doing more for the community than scholarships for qualified, funded kids."

The tournament is also a plus for local and regional businesses.

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net

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