Steven Outlaw remembers it “like it was yesterday,” the speech he gave that launched The First Tee Scholars Program, as well as the handshake he engaged in with Dr. William Crouch of Georgetown College that ultimately sealed the deal for hundreds of First Tee scholarships.
Outlaw’s incredible journey began in 2001 at the First Tee National Conference at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla. Outlaw, a young African-American who was an original member of The First Tee dating back to its inception in 1997, and his mother were there as part of the festivities to celebrate The First Tee’s very first class.
Like Crouch, who was to give an inspirational speech on how his NAIA school used athletics to teach character development, Outlaw was there to speak on the merits of the First Tee, a national nonprofit youth development organization whose mission is to use golf as an educational tool to help build character.
Outlaw and Couch seemed star-crossed, because Outlaw wasn’t originally scheduled to give his speech that first night of the convention. But when another speaker’s flight was delayed, the teen-ager from East Chicago, Ind., was pressed into duty and met Crouch backstage just seconds prior to delivering his speech.
“I was well-prepared (for the speech), but when I was notified by a (First Tee) representative that the early speaker’s flight was delayed and I was up, as you can imagine, I was shocked and the butterflies immediately took over,” Outlaw recalled of that fateful encounter. “I was taken backstage and wired up with a microphone, while at the same time Dr. Crouch was being wired up.
“I introduced myself to him and got my cue to proceed to the stage to deliver my speech. I don’t really remember delivering the speech but the standing ovation afterwards will forever be etched in my mind.”
Immediately after Outlaw delivered his speech, Dr. Crouch came onstage. Before Crouch started his message to the audience he commented on Outlaw’s speech and said he was the type of student he wanted at Georgetown College. He mentioned Outlaw’s firm handshake, and in the next instant, Crouch offered Outlaw a full-ride scholarship.
“It was awesome, and (Crouch’s scholarship offer to Outlaw) prompted the president of Kansas State to reciprocate (with another scholarship to K-State), and thus started the First Tee Scholars Program,” Outlaw recalled. “To a teen-ager that was 16 at the time, it was hard to describe my excitement — and better yet the excitement of my mother.”
Crouch was excited, too. Not just about Outlaw’s speech, but the manner Outlaw carried himself thanks to the life-enhancing values and healthy choices he had learned through The First Tee. After all, and as Crouch well knew, it wasn’t easy growing up in a tough town like East Chicago, where Outlaw’s parents had been steel workers.
“Steven came right up to me. His posture was straight, his handshake was strong, and he looked me in the eye,” Crouch told one national publication. “I never had a young person be so aggressive.”
That night Crouch and his fellow college presidents started the ball rolling that netted The First Tee $2.3 million in scholarship seed money. Those early contributions along with subsequent funding have helped The First Tee award 112 scholarships worth $10,000 each in the last 10 years. And just as uplifting, hundreds more in the years to come.
Outlaw certainly was uplifted. Not only does his resumé note that he became one of the first African-Americans to play golf in the Mid-South Conference, but he also claimed medalist honors at the conference championship his senior year. Best of all, Outlaw said, he graduated from Georgetown College with degrees in political science and psychology. Today, he is a PGA professional working for Troon Golf at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club in the United Arab Emirates.
Joe Louis Barrow, the CEO of The First Tee, certainly knows what an integral role Outlaw has played in the history of his organization, which already has touched over nine million young people in the U.S. and selected international locations.
“There’s no question that Steven Outlaw, a man of great character, helped take The First Tee Scholarship Program to new heights,” Barrow said. “And in addition to helping us, Steven helped himself.
“Becoming a PGA member, working for Troon Golf, making his way to Abu Dhabi, being a professional and a role model, everything he has accomplished, we could not be prouder. He always will be remembered for setting the bar for our Scholarship Program, as well as how he has succeeded.”
For Outlaw it has been a long and winding road, but one he said he wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. It began in the Midwest in a working family, moved to the Southeast for his education, continued on to the Southwest where he earned his stripes in the golf industry before jumping half way around the world to the surreal city of Dubai.
“Education was always a big part of my life, and I enjoyed other sports as a kid like basketball, football and baseball,” recalled the 29-year-old Outlaw. “Golf was more recreational, merely something fun to do when hanging out with the family; nothing I took too serious.
“The First Tee was introduced to me just before my freshmen year in high school. I immediately took to the program, concepts, core values and my whole demeanor was transformed. I liked that The First Tee was not just a golf instruction program, but that I learned things that I still use today, and that I knew would benefit me in my life. It also gave minorities such as myself exposure into a costly game that would have been tough otherwise.”
Being in the golf industry has furthered his education, Outlaw said. And he gave his father and First Tee instructor Don Plohg much of that credit along with his employer, Scottsdale-based Troon Golf.
“Working in the golf industry has shown me a whole other side of the game,” he said. “It turned out to be my niche in life, and I knew this is where I needed to be.
“Once you work for Troon Golf, you realize why it is the No. 1 golf management company in the world. It’s principles and procedures, and the way they are implemented, are unlike any other company in the industry. I feel fortunate to work for a company with such an extensive portfolio (of courses), and one that truly values every associate and their progression within their area of expertise.”
As for his current role in Abu Dhabi, Outlaw said he’s well prepared for the heat after working at Troon North Golf Club and Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club in Arizona for five years, and now in the dramatic desert of the Middle East.
“Abu Dhabi continues to grow every year and Dubai is pretty comparable to a major U.S. City,” he said. “The architecture is unreal; definitely a must see.
“Everything (in Abu Dhabi) is about going big, as we have the tallest building in the world, the fastest roller coaster in the world, and indoor ski slopes in the Emirates Mall. The climates are similar but you add the heat of Arizona with the humidity of Florida, and that’s the UAE.”
Outlaw’s progress within Troon Golf has made him a rising star in the industry, and he has built steadily on that meteoric reputation. Even though it hasn’t always been easy — being a black man in what has historically has been a lily-white sport — Outlaw said he never tires of learning about life in his travels.
“At times, sure, it’s been tough,” Outlaw conceded. “But for the most part, I’ve been lucky to never experience any racism within the industry or from our customers. But I did in my playing days as a junior.”
Those early struggles within the game, as well as his well-rounded background today, have made Outlaw in great demand. And when he gave that speech at the World Golf Hall of Fame way back in 2001 it wasn’t the first time he had appeared before a well-informed body. The year prior, Outlaw testified before the U.S. Congress along with Jack Nicklaus in regards to funding The First Tee.
“(Testifying before Congress) was surreal and somewhat ironic to be in the position to help out the program that initially helped out me,” he recalled. “I spoke at the Congressional Breakfast the next day and will always remember those experiences and the people I had the opportunity to meet, such as Jack Nicklaus and Tim Finchem.
“It was pretty cool when years later I ran into Mr. Finchem while working at Troon North and we spoke about that event (testifying before Congress) and where The First Tee was at that time as compared to where it was today.”
Yes, thanks to The First Tee and its founding partners – the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, PGA of America, PGA Tour and the USGA — hundreds of youngsters, some of them minorities like Outlaw, have found careers within the game.
“I feel the perception of the golf industry is changing as the number of minorities throughout the industry continue to grow year after year,” said Outlaw, whose work and leadership skills have earned him The First Tee’s prestigious Dr. William J. Powell Award. (Powell is regarded by The PGA of America to be the only African-American to build, own and operate a golf course.
“The golf industry still has that fraternity sort of feel to it at times, but sometimes it’s just more of a matter of getting your foot in the door that ultimately paves the way. As my father likes to say, ‘Hard work trumps all.'”
It also helps to get some good advice and friendly pointers along the way, Outlaw added.
“My introduction to Troon Golf and the operation was spot on,” Outlaw noted. “I learned from the ground up, which is the best way to learn in my opinion.
“Many people helped me along the way, guys like John Easterbrook, my initial contact within Troon Golf was a big aspiration, as were Lon Grundy, Mitch Harrell, Cody Sherrill, JC Wright, Garrett Wallace and Reagan Davis. Those guys have taught me countless invaluable lessons that I will never forget.”
Still, it’s hard to beat that first lesson Outlaw learned through The First Tee, that showing respect begins with a firm handshake.
“I never saw or imagined I would do some of the things I was able to do through The First Tee,” Outlaw concluded. “I look back at some of my experiences and just think how blessed I was to be afforded the opportunities to excel.
“Before The First Tee, I was a big computer person and figured I would be in Silicon Valley someday day in the tech field. But my eyes were opened with the program to new possibilities . . . It just doesn’t get much better than working for Troon Golf, and I really do feel like the sky is the limit.”