Charlie DeLucca Jr., the 'Godfather' of Fla. Junior Golf

Wednesday, May 30, 2018 0 Comments

Charlie DeLucca Jr., the 'Godfather' of Fla. Junior Golf

 

At 76 years-old, Charlie DeLucca Jr., spent most of his entire life teaching kids how to play golf and life-learning skills for children with special needs. 

He welcomed kids who were chased off other golf courses and started the Dade Amateur Golf Association’s junior program at the former Miami Lakes Country Club (now Shula’s Golf Club) in 1967.

“Kids were not allowed to play golf because most courses were private,” said DeLucca. “We had 152 kids from Palm Beach to Monroe counties when we started the program. It was a different time back in those days. But we built a junior golf program which was probably the best ever.”

On May 11, DeLucca perhaps received the epitome of a public service honor when he received the Keith Tribble Community Service Excellence Award during the Orange Bowl Food and Wine Celebration at the Broward County Convention Center. 

The award recognizes an individual who has made extraordinary efforts to promote and enhance social conditions around them in uncharted ways, and whose contributions have been outstanding, unique and significantly impacted the South Florida Community.

“I was tremendously honored,” DeLucca said. “I didn’t expect it at all, and to compare myself to Keith Dribble, that’s an honor itself.”

Called the godfather of South Florida junior golf and a long-time champion of people with disabilities including the Special Olympics, DeLucca organized the first Doral Public Junior tournament more than 30 years ago as a tuneup for the Orange Bowl Junior Golf Invitation. Junior golfers, boys and girls from ages 4 to 18 from 36 nations, compete annually in the event at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa.

The long time Miami Lakes resident has been manager and operator of International Links at the City of Miami MelReese Golf Course since 2004, and named the junior golf  program the First Tee Miami.

There, he, his son, Charlie DeLucca III, and Carlos Rodriguez among other staff members, run about 20 programs a year for 5,000 kids including those with disabilities, not only for golf but educational programs including tutoring, college prep courses and workout programs.

He said the Special Olympics kids are near and dear to his heart, even naming the Sandra DeLucca Development Center after his late daughter.

He said 650 kids participate in the golf programs and compete to determine who advances to the state wide Special Olympics.

One team was chosen to compete in the Special Olympics this summer in Seattle, Washington, said Adine Sadin, the assistant program coordinator for the Sandra DeLucca Development Center.

“It is so exciting for them,” she said.

Sadin said the center is a learning experience for kids with special needs, where certified teachers teach them life-learning skills including computer technology inside a state-of-the-art room, writing and finance courses, arts and crafts and job training.

“It’s hitting a spot near to our hearts,” she said.

Sadin said DeLucca and the City of Miami helped with the expansion of the program, which allows additional students in a bigger building with more programs.

“Charlie DeLucca is an angel,” she said. “Charlie has helped us in all the 19 years I have been here. Anything we need, he got it for us.” 

DeLucca said he can’t imagine his life without helping kids.

“For kids who couldn’t play football, I wanted to give them an alternative like golf and educational programs,” he said. “They don’t have a lot of fun things to do but sit in the classrooms, but here they have a fun day out. Forty four kids in the last three years have graduated from the program and went on to college.”

He’s also reaching out to people who served in the U.S. military.

DeLucca said he’s in the planning stages of a Project Hope program for VA soldiers returning home from active duty to learn a skill or trade, and he just started a program with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“It’s not just about golf,” DeLucca said. “It’s about education and helping them get jobs,” he said. 

Another reason why he is called the godfather of South Florida junior golf was the creation of a Florida license plate, which state lawmakers approved in Tallahassee, and $750,000 of the proceeds are donated annually to junior golf programs in the state.

DeLucca said it cost thousands and thousands of dollars to help push it through including collecting signatures on a petition and lobbying the Florida lawmakers to create the godfather’s license plate.

It costs about $1 million a year to run his programs, DeLucca said.

“We’ve done a lot of things in South Florida, I don’t really mean to brag about it,” he said. “Junior golf is no longer a minor sport, it is on its way back because of the junior programs around the country. And it started with us.”

Golf was in DeLucca’s blood since he was kid.

He was a caddy for his father during his golfing days, which inspired him to play the ball-and-club sport.

Following high school graduation, DeLucca joined the Navy, where he ended up on the golf team.

“When I finished school I went into the Navy because I didn’t want to go to college,” he said. “Back then it was either go to college or get drafted in the military.”

After serving in the U.S. military, DeLucca was hired by William A. Graham to work as the first pro golfer at the former Miami Lakes Country Club, where he started the Special Olympics program.

“The Graham family were community-minded people and supported my vision for kids playing golf,” he said. 

The love fest for DeLucca’s work with kids and dedication to the community continues until this day.

"He is one of the greatest ambassadors of golf that South Florida has ever seen," said Johnny LaPonzina, a former junior champion in Miami who operates 11 South Florida courses. "He has basically given his life to kids, and unfortunately he's never received the recognition he deserves, but he's never cared about that." 

Sean Pittman, Orange Bowl president and chair, said DeLucca’s contributions to junior golf and enhancing the lives of the people with disabilities are legendary in South Florida.

“The Orange Bowl Committee is proud to honor him for all that he has done to make South Florida a better place, both with the youth and the disabled of our community.”

DeLucca said he doesn’t care about the recognition.

“I don’t do it for the recognition because I love it,” he said. “If you don’t love it, you’re not going to do the job.”

 

 

 

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