The giant green gorilla – also known as Golfrilla – returned to the Sawgrass Country Club on Wednesday, March 10, for the Tesori Family Foundation All-Star Kids Clinic.
And, once again, the iconic inflatable was joined by some big names from the world of golf.
But the real stars, as the clinic’s title suggests, were the 26 children and youth with special needs who attended the event for one-on-one golf instruction, lots of laughs and fun in the sun. They rotated in teams to try their skills in four categories: driving, putting, chipping and trying to hit ring-shaped “golf balls” into Golfrilla’s mouth – and that of his companion inflatable, a giant alligator.
Before the kids teed off, though, PGA TOUR caddie and former TOUR golfer Paul Tesori had a message for them.
“Each of you kids here today, you’re not broken,” Tesori said. “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just made differently. We all have our own challenges, and each one of you brings so much joy to our lives.”
He tied his message to a quote from John 9:1-3, where the disciples ask why a certain man was born blind. Jesus tells them, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
“God made you the way you are so that the works of the Father could be seen through you,” Tesori told his audience. “Please remember that. Don’t allow other people to dictate who you are or what you’re about. You are a precious prize for all of us, and we’re thankful you’re here today.”
The clinic, in its seventh year, is a team effort between the foundation, PGA TOUR friends at THE PLAYERS Championship, Wyndham Championship, Wells Fargo Championship, the Sanderson Farms Championship and chapters of The First Tee.
In addition to Ponte Vedra Beach, clinics are held at Greenboro, North Carolina; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Jackson, Mississippi.
Tesori said his goal is to have a clinic at every stop of the PGA TOUR, as well as the LPGA Tour.
The idea for the clinic came about with the birth of the Tesori’s son, Isaiah, who has Down Syndrome. About that time, Wyndham Championship tournament director Mark Brazil suggested they put together a clinic for kids with special needs.
And in 2014, the first All-Star Kids Clinic was held.
“We wanted to celebrate the kids, introduce them to a game that’s been so good to me, but also be in a situation where we can help them have fun, give the parents a little bit of a break and just kind of celebrate them,” Tesori said.
Most of the one-on-one coaches for the March 10 event were from the local First Tee. But professional golfers Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Brittany Lincicome and others turned out to help make the day a success.
It was the first clinic of 2021, two having been canceled out of an abundance of caution in the wake of COVID-19. Last year, the foundation hosted four live clinics and five virtually via Zoom. Clinic volunteers take every precaution – including masks, temperature checks, distancing and sanitizing – to help ensure that everyone remains safe.
The nature of the clinics, however, poses some challenges.
“One of the habitual, great personality traits of kids with special needs is the desire to hug and have social and physical interaction,” said Tesori. “So, it’s a little bit tough at times. We kind of remind the kids they can’t do certain things.”
Still, the precautions didn’t appear to dampen the joy the young participants always exhibit. It’s one of the traits clinic volunteers admire.
“If they don’t hit a good shot, they celebrate and have fun,” said Tesori. “If they hit a really good shot, they celebrate it even more.”
Challenging Golfrilla as the most popular attraction at the clinic was the Dunkin’ pavilion, where the young golfers were able to enjoy a treat. Franchisee John Griffey has been a strong supporter of the clinics and, according to Tesori, has donated more than $30,000 in cash and $70,000 in goods.
“It’s tremendous what he’s been able to do,” Tesori said.
At the start of the clinic, Tesori thanked businesses and individuals who helped make the event a success.
To learn more about the foundation and the clinics, go to tesorifamilyfoundation.org.