Politics & Policy

Hole in One!

$3 million in defense money for 'first tee.'

A program that aims to build children’s character through the game of golf may get a $3 million earmark three months after one of the program’s host facilities named itself after and erected a statue of a powerful sitting congressman.

In August, the South Carolina Parks and Recreation Foundation renamed its public golf-training center in Columbia after Rep. James Clyburn (D., S.C.), the House Democratic whip and an avid golfer. The center, which includes a driving range and putting and chipping practice greens, went so far as to erect a statue of Clyburn in front of its main building. (Their website features a 25-photo slideshow on the statue’s installation.)

According to the city of Columbia’s website, the newly rededicated golf center “will not only focus on honoring Congressman James E. Clyburn, but it will also allow our community to highlight his many contributions to our city, our region, and our state.”

Three months after being thus honored, Clyburn quietly requested the $3 million in Department of Defense funds for “First Tee,” a youth program of which the center is the local host. Neither house of Congress voted on this earmark when the bill first passed earlier this year, as Clyburn had not requested any money at that point. He instead inserted the money for First Tee into the conference report (the final version) of the Defense Appropriations bill (it appears on page 207 of this 621-page pdf document.

Clyburn’s spokeswoman, Kristie Greco, said the earmark had nothing to do with the Clyburn Center or its recent dedication. “This does not relate to a golf center in Columbia,” she said. “It’s a program he supports and believes in.” She said that the funds are for First Tee to conduct its program for children of servicemembers all over the nation — hence its inclusion in the Operations and Maintenance Defense-Wide (OMDW) title of the Defense Appropriations bill.

“It’s to fund the program at military installations, for children,” said Greco. “It builds life-skills. They learn setting goals and reaching them, sportsmanship, etiquette.”

The World Golf Foundation, the nonprofit parent organization of First Tee, has a $20 million annual budget. Its World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla. offers vacation packages with deluxe accommodations, a day spa, and two different kinds of massages. Several corporate sponsors provide the World Golf Foundation and the First Tee program with private funding, including Wal-Mart, AT&T, Verizon, and Time Warner, to name just a few.

First Tee has apparently never received money in any previous Defense bill, but it has done well in other appropriations bills. In the omnibus appropriations bill of 2004, someone slipped $2 million to First Tee through the Justice Department’s COPS program, designed to put 100,000 more police on the street. Someone added another $1 million to First Tee through the Department of Education — again, through an earmark inserted in conference committee. Those funds were taken away from a competitive grant program for other character-education charities. Greco said that Clyburn was not the one who requested those earmarks, which later became the subject of complaints in congressional testimony by Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste.

This year’s tax-funded windfall for First Tee is carved out of the title of the Department of Defense appropriations bill that funds some force training and force protection in combat zones. It is nestled among earmarks for weapons systems, military-technology programs, and medical funds for treating soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. It is one of only two earmarks to fall under OMDW. The other earmark, requested by Rep. James Walsh (R., N.Y.), is $1 million designated for “Special Operations Forces Tele-Training Systems.”

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