POWER LINKS: Atlanta Elite, Community Kids Bond Over Golf

By Michelle Hiskey
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Old, monied Atlantans like golfer Bobby Jones and his pal Charlie Yates believed in the power of friendships to make the city grow. In that spirit, some of Atlanta’s most connected people spent a recent afternoon showing a new generation how to make effective partnerships far from any boardroom.

Members of the influential Yates and Cousins families, Billi Marcus (whose husband Bernie built the Georgia Aquarium), state House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons), Woodruff Foundation President Russ Hardin, Children’s Healthcare board chairman Doug Hertz, retired Southern Co. executive Warren Jobe and others paired up with 36 kids who a generation ago would have little access to this kind of power.

They did it the old Atlanta way, with drivers and putters, on the ground where Jones and Yates grew up in east Atlanta.

Their partners this day were the kids who live near there now, and come from lower- to middle-class families. Through the First Tee of East Lake, they’re learning life skills through golf.

The passage of knowledge was further emphasized by the tournament’s old-fashioned format, similar to tennis doubles, that forced young and old pairs to work together.

Most of the time, it wasn’t clear who was teaching whom.

The big names wore fancy clothes, swung expensive clubs and gave out important career advice.

Tyler Lawrence, 15, got some tips on becoming a pro golfer from Valerie Hartman-Levy, whose civic work includes helping recruit the WNBA Atlanta Dream.

“She told me to be patient, because I get upset after bad shots,” said Tyler, a Grady High School student.

But the younger generation did not back down a bit with their high-profile partners.

“This is your chance to redeem yourself,” Marcus Sherman, 14, told his partner Lew Horne, who is the Troutman Sanders partner who represents Grady Memorial Hospital. Horne was coming off a few bad decisions that Marcus had to clean up, and isn’t that what usually aggravates the next generation?

“You have to know each other better,” said Billi Marcus, who was paired with Kelly Willis, 15. “If you know the strength and weaknesses of the other person, you can play to that.”

Keen was frank about his impact on Martavious Adams, 14, one of the rising First Tee stars. “He would have done a lot better if not for me! … He knows the rules, observes the etiquette and knows the nuances. His training is going extremely well.”

To mark the event, Keen sponsored a House resolution declaring May 30 “Charlie Yates Day” for his service through golf and business to improve Atlanta.

Yates learned the value of adult-child interdependence from Jones, who brought worldwide fame to Atlanta by winning the 1930 Grand Slam of golf’s major titles.

Jones inspired Yates to success in golf and in the banking, textile and railroad industries. Yates spearheaded the campaign for what became the Woodruff Arts Center.

All that began when the pair became friends playing East Lake’s two golf courses. One course was replaced by a public housing project that became a notorious crime magnet. A decade ago, developer Tom Cousins tore down that complex and rebuilt a golf course on it, this time one geared to young players.

“Bob Jones once told me that a person never stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child,” Yates said when the new course was dedicated in his name in 1998. He passed away in 2005 at age 92.

His wife, Dorothy Yates, 87, gave out the trophies at the recent “junior-senior” event. Former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn dropped by to encourage the young players, who asked him to autograph scorecards.

“I think Charlie would be smiling down from the heavens today,” his son Comer Yates, who organized the tournament, told the crowd. “The best investment he ever made was in you.”

In closing, the 64 participants hoisted a toast the way Jones and Yates always did after a round in the hot sun.

“To the friendships that started today,” Comer Yates said, and they downed sweating glass bottles of Coca-Cola.