This October, the Northwest Asian Weekly presents the Visionary Awards Gala, an event honoring visionaries in the APA community.
By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Inbee Park, Michelle Wie, and Tiger Woods. These golfers got their start in golf at a young age, but for many children, a chance at golf — or any other sport — is beyond their reach. But in Seattle, the Bogey Bear Jr. Golf Foundation aims to give inner-city youth a swing at the sport.
Founder Dr. John Lee was a self-described “golf nut.” He had the ability to connect with people from all walks of life and combined this skill with his love of golf. When he retired from a distinguished career as a radiologist in 1995, he established the Bogey Bear, Jr. Golf Foundation in order to teach inner-city youth the game.
Bogey Bear, Jr. received its name from a character Lee created when he first introduced the game to his grandchildren. Lee drew a bear that taught all of his animal friends the proper way to swing a golf club. Lee, an amateur illustrator, created an entire comic book demonstrating a 1-2-3 approach to swinging a golf club and the basic rules of golf.
Although Dr. Lee passed away in 2007, his vision for providing golf instruction to inner-city youths continues.
“He tried to outreach to those that may not have been exposed to golfing and have them give it a try and learn to be more comfortable hitting golf balls,” explained Bogey Bear Jr. Golf Foundation Executive Director Mike Yoshitomi.
In 1996, when Bogey Bear first started, Lee personally reached out to various schools in the Seattle area and community organizations to attract students to attend lessons at Jefferson Park golf course.
In the beginning, Dr. Lee funded the organization with his own money so that kids and their parents would not have to worry about startup costs.
“Dr. Lee was willing to work with anybody,” said Yoshitomi. “He didn’t mind if he got five kids, or two kids or 20. He would give them the same instruction.”
Although Lee was never a professional golfer or golf pro at a club, he taught the basics of the golf swing to any child that would come to a lesson and listen. Yoshitomi stated that Lee invented a method of swing that would be easy to teach and that kids would enjoy.
Currently, Bogey Bear is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations and holds an annual golf tournament to fund the program. The kids that come learn for free. This includes all golf clubs, range balls, and greens fees at Jefferson Park. Golf clubs are donated to the program so that kids do not have to spend money to purchase them.
Bogey Bear provides weekly instructions each Saturday morning from April through the end of August to any child willing to show up and learn. The class averages 40 students a week and teaches putting, chipping, and taking full swings at the driving range. Yoshitomi estimates that over 130 different students give the sport a try over the course of a summer.
“If you can pay attention long enough, you can come every week,” said Yoshitomi of the requirements for participation. He indicated that the vision of the organization was to introduce the game in a casual, low pressure, low stress environment.
The core group of participants ranges between the ages of 7 and 12, though some high schoolers take part as well. The older, advanced participants often serve as mentors to the younger ones.
The program has received good reviews from the participants. “They get to meet new people and they seem to really love it,” said Yoshitomi.
Due to its success, the number of participants has grown just through word of mouth. “There is a large influx of younger kids coming and we’re seeing a huge number of kids showing up every year,” Yoshitomi added, “We’ve also seen a huge increase in fresh new kids where it’s their first year.”
A Board of Directors of 10 helps guide the nonprofit. The program is staffed by parents and other volunteers that commit their time and effort for the benefit of the kids.
While Bogey Bear’s goal is not to create the next Tiger Woods, there have been some successful alumni of the program, including a young woman that plays on the Oregon State golf team and numerous other golfers on their respective high school teams. (end)
For more information about the Bogey Bear, Jr. Golf Foundation, visit www.bogeybeargolf.org.
The Visionary Awards Gala is Oct. 18 at China Harbor Restaurant from 6–9 p.m. Tickets are available for $70 before Oct. 15 and $80 afterwards. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.