Jack Nicklaus, Charles Barkley use golf to help raise funds for kids program

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – On Friday celebrities gathered in Lakeland to golf for children. Jack Nicklaus’ appearance packed people into the YMCA Par 3 Course – all for a good cause.

The event, the First Tee of Lakeland, teaches children life skills through golf.

Doug Wimberly is the event’s co-founder. “It has been able to teach these kids respect, honesty and confidence and all these core values at an early age,” Wimberly said.

First Tee of Lakeland

Savannah Kummelman, 16, has benefited from the program. “It has helped me. I have gotten out of my shell. I have become more outgoing and I love helping people. Giving back is the thing for me,” Kummelman said.

That’s one of the reasons former NBC player Charles Barkley, an amateur golfer, has showed up every year for the event, which now partly bears his name.

“When I started this thing I was only going to do it for one year, and this is year 11 now,” Barkley said. “It has been amazing to see the expression on these kids’ faces.”

Without a doubt this year’s big draw was golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, who gave the crowd some putting lessons before hitting the course.

“To get him this year tripled our attendance, fundraising and all of that great stuff,” Gerald Richardson with the YMCA Par 3 golf course said.

This outing provided an afternoon of fun, but it’s really about helping children.

“It is about changing the values of human beings. It’s about giving people a reason to keep on keeping on,” said John Copeland, the First Tee of Lakeland program coordinator.

Since the annual golf outing started, more than $1.5 million has been raised for The First Tee of Lakeland.

This year’s large turnout alone is expected to raise $250,000 for the program.

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