■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
A hearty meal accompanied the heartfelt thanks to the valley’s snowbirds and the contributions they provide to our economy and our youth at the recent Grandfathers For Golf banquet dinner at Golden Village Palms RV Resort Park in Hemet.
Who, I asked, are Grandfathers For Golf and what do they do other than swat a tiny white ball across acres of green (sometimes not so green) grass, seeking to find a small hole in the ground that is fondly referred to as the “tin cup?”
I went to someone who knows a great deal more about this particular nonprofit organization and what they’re actually up to. I consulted with Linda Greilich, who manages the Golden Era Golf Course on the north side of our valley.
“This all began when a few grandfatherly golfers thought it would be nice to introduce some underprivileged school children to their sport — golf. There were perhaps four or five youngsters who showed up at Soboba Country Club for instructions which, at the time, were limited to chip shots and a putting green. Eventually that grew to more than 20 kids.”
Since the Soboba Course is for-profit and Golden Era’s course is nonprofit, Greilich invited the group to make her golf course their home. They accepted her offer and now enjoy their fifth year at Golden Era.
“We bring youth to the game,” said Greilich. “Everyone involved in the project is a volunteer and currently we have 50 of them – we could not operate without them. The Grandfathers hold a weekly fundraiser on Thursdays to keep the money flowing. The major cost is busing the students in from all over the area.”
The organization has grown and expanded to such an extent that it now includes Echo Hills Golf course, south of Hemet, to accommodate the schools in that area.
“Grandfathers For Golf now includes 500 kids and the tutoring has grown beyond chip and putt,” says Greilich. “They are taught how to hold a club, to swing a club and so on until they know a full golf course and what to do there. It is amazing to see how they progress.”
The volunteers are not just local duffers. Snowbirds from Canada have become an integral part of the program. They join with locals by donating golf clubs that have been cut down to size for each kid. In addition they supply balls, gloves — even golfing shoes.
Current club President Ernie Kerchmar said, “This dinner is to thank our friends from the snow country up north for being a part of us and for coming here every year and contributing to our economy and this great program for young and coming golfers. Brendan Steele, from Idyllwild, began his career as a part of our program.”
Steele is currently ranked No. 56 in the world among professional golfers and is ranked in eighth place in the FedExCup and has earned more than $2 million in prize money in 2017.
Ernie and Linda both give credit to affable, former president, Tony Viola, for being there when the Grandfathers For Golf was getting off the ground. Tony, who chefs for Golden Era Golf Course, also prepared the juicy edibles at the snowbird recognition dinner.
Not to be overlooked, the renowned “Seniors on Stage,” another not so hidden talent in the valley, serenaded us throughout the evening. Dancing was the order of the evening and Hemet’s Mayor Linda Krupa sure knows how to swing a wicked dance step.
So much good comes out of our beautiful valley, yet some folks complain that nobody writes anything good about Hemet. This sounds like pretty good stuff to me. Just sayin’.
Play a round of golf while raising money for the kids
■ Staff Reports / Contributed
Grandfathers For Golf invites golfers of any skill level to play in its weekly Men’s Club tourney to raise money to help teach kids the game of golf for free. Playing in the tournaments are a great way to have fun, meet a great group of guys and help fund a good cause, said Tony Viola, club past president.
Fees for the Thursday morning tournaments, held at Golden Era Golf Course, are $25 for 18 holes of golf with cart ($30 for first-time players), a continental breakfast and a full lunch. Tee off is between 7 and 8 a.m. No reservations needed – just show up and sign in. Handicaps are established after one tourney.
Tournament fees are tax deductible because Grandfathers For Golf is nonprofit.
Money raised goes directly toward paying for the costs related to the Grandfathers For Golf program, including equipment for the kids, busing from school districts and other expenses. None of the money is spent on salaries – everybody volunteers their time, said Viola.
The organization teaches an average of 200 kids per 8-week session on three golf courses in the Hemet-San Jacinto area. For more information, contact Viola at (909) 754-4148. Golden Era Golf Course is located at 19871 Gilman Springs Road in San Jacinto.