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May 31, 2024

Stepping Up

Barry Kaufman

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Part-time residents make full-time commitment to First Tee – The Lowcountry

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Since its inception 10 years ago, First Tee – The Lowcountry has been a symbol of our community’s willingness to give back. Before this organization could pursue its mission of teaching area youth the finer points of golf while instilling in them life skills and values that go beyond the course, it was simply an idea. That idea became reality thanks to the selflessness of an army of volunteers and advocates. 

In those early days, it was the folks who were willing to will First Tee into existence, working with town and community partners to drum up support and individual donors to establish funding. Today, that largesse continues through the generosity of community members who have seen firsthand the difference First Tee has made. 

In fact, that generosity not only continues, it has grown. And much of that continued generosity and support can be tied to two individuals who live in Palmetto Bluff.

Joe Datillo, First Tee-The Lowcountry Board Member 

Many communities in the area have supported First Tee – The Lowcountry, said First Tee board member Joe Dattilo. Recently, that took a huge new turn. 

“Late last year we were contacted by First Tee St. Augustine, and they told us they had someone in Palmetto Bluff who was nearly committed to becoming a national trustee for First Tee,” Dattilo said. “However, they wanted to learn more about the local First Tee chapter and asked if I’d engage with him, provide some background, and allow him to tour our facility on Hilton Head Island.”

That someone was Rick Van Benschoten, a longtime part-time resident from New York City whose commitment to serve as a national trustee for First Tee meant he’d have the ability to direct as much as half of his overall commitment to the local chapter.  

John Bankhead 

“A friend of mine was starting the Puerto Rico chapter, so I had allocated some there, but then I recognized that I’d like to be involved, to be onsite and meet the kids,” Van Benschoten said. “And that’s when this Hilton Head opportunity came up.”

He also proved to be the gift that keeps on giving by bringing in his fellow Palmetto Bluff part-time resident and longtime friend John Bankhead. Bankhead had also been named a national trustee, and he needed little convincing to put his funds toward our local chapter.

Bankhead spent a morning at First Tee – The Lowcountry headquarters, toured the facility, and met the team; that’s all it took.

“I’ve been coming down here from Boston for 30 years to come to the Heritage and I’ve had a home in Palmetto Bluff for 15 years,” Bankhead said. “In a major city like Boston, there are plenty of donors to support those programs. I felt like I could reach more kids down here.”

The first priority for Bankhead was setting up a college scholarship fund for First Tee students. 

Joshua Smith accepts the inaugural First Tee- The Lowcountry Secondary Education Scholarship

“That’s one of the things that drew me to it – working with youth and setting up scholarships,” Bankhead said. In fact, at the First Tee Gala on April 16, Bankhead awarded the inaugural First Tee – The Lowcountry Secondary Education scholarship to a deserving First Tee student. “It seems like we all came together at the right time,” he said.

Rick and Patti Van Benschoten

After attending the gala and seeing firsthand the organization’s impact on the community, Van Benschoten joined Bankhead in directing a portion of his financial commitment to First Tee – The Lowcountry.

“You’re giving money, and that’s all they ask of trustees. But I feel like you’re kind of cheating if you don’t give your time and get involved,” Van Benschoten said. “When you see these kids speak at a trustee event, it blows your mind how mature they are and how the First Tee has helped them position themselves. It’s really inspiring.”  

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