Special to The Explorer

Greg Byrne, University of Arizona athletic director, drove the ball straight and true Friday, when The First Tee of Tucson and the Tucson Conquistadores dedicated the new Tucson Learning Center.

Eight other symbolic drives, each representing a core value taught in The First Tee Life Skills program, found the practice range fairway at the Trini Alvarez-El Rio Golf Course, 1400 W. Speedway. Those values are honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

The First Tee is about more than golf. Byrne told young golfers to embrace the program's lessons in their sport, in their classrooms and throughout their lives.

The Tucson Learning Center contains classrooms for coaches and mentors to teach goal-setting, decision-making and mentoring. Those are "all skills that can be used on and off the golf course," a release said.

The Learning Center is a companion to the facility's three-hole, par-three layout within the practice range, and the synthetic Tour Turf practice green and tee line. The renovated 18-hole El Rio Golf Course is also utilized by The First Tee members.

Private community foundations, local contractors, volunteers and the City of Tucson teamed to make The Learning Center happen.

"It's here in The First Tee of Tucson Learning Center, where sport is translated into valuable life lessons, so our young golfers have the tools they need to succeed on and off the golf course," said Tucson City Councilwoman Regina Romero. "I'm so proud of my neighborhood and my community."

"The First Tee of Tucson is a model for establishing public and private partnership that contributes to the well-being of the community," said Dan Meyers, a Tucson Conquistador who serves as president of The First Tee of Tucson.

The Tucson Conquistadores fund the operation of The First Tee of Tucson program with ticket proceeds from the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, held each year at the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain in Marana.

More than 1,500 local kids are currently enrolled in The First Tee of Tucson. It recruits youngsters ages 5 to 17 from every corner of the Tucson community, especially disadvantaged and at-risk children. Volunteers serve as coaches for the hundreds of participants. The program began in 2005.

There is a special tribute in the building to the late Ricki Rarick, affectionately known as "Mr. Golf," for his contributions to establishing the Tucson Open golf tournament and the local junior golf program.

Everyone enjoyed Sonoran hot dogs, tacos and caramelos from neighborhood eateries afterward.

For more information, visit www.thefirstteetucson.org.

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