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What brought Kelly Tilghman and Nancy Lopez to Myrtle Beach to benefit junior golfers

Tidewater Golf Club hosted the 2023 Mentor Cup operated by the Gene's Dream Foundation on Oct. 28.

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The work that Kelly Tilghman and the Gene’s Dream Foundation board of directors has been doing to benefit junior golf in the Myrtle Beach area has been noticed.

The First Tee national headquarters has endorsed the foundation’s Mentor Cup tournament, and the youth development organization will take more of a role in its operation and promotion beginning next year.

The Mentor Cup is an 18-hole tournament for adult mentors and young mentees, giving them quality time and a competition in which to further bond.

This year’s tournament will be held Oct. 28 at Tidewater Golf Club and will feature Tilghman and a couple of her golf industry friends – World Golf Hall of Fame member Nancy Lopez and social media golf influencer Roger Steele.

The Gene’s Dream Foundation’s namesake is Gene Weldon, who was a mentor to Tilghman as the head pro at her family’s Gator Hole Golf Club in North Myrtle Beach.

“With The First Tee national taking notice of what we’ve done, being excited about it, fully endorsing the program and adopting it, and helping us grow it going forward, I know that would make Gene so happy,” Tilghman said.

‘WITH THE FIRST TEE NATIONAL TAKING NOTICE OF WHAT WE’VE DONE, BEING EXCITED ABOUT IT, FULLY ENDORSING THE PROGRAM AND ADOPTING IT, AND HELPING US GROW IT GOING FORWARD, I KNOW THAT WOULD MAKE GENE SO HAPPY.’

Kelly Tilghman

Weldon was a staunch supporter of The First Tee, which builds character through golf and the stressing of nine core values, prior to his death in 2017. Area First Tee members have been the primary participants in the Mentor Cup’s first five years.

That is changing with this year’s event, as 40 teams are representing several First Tee chapters in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.

“We are opening our door and growing our footprint regionally . . . with an overall goal to grow this to a national level one day,” said Tilghman, a tournament founder and foundation board member who spent 22 years as an on-air personality at Golf Channel. “North Myrtle Beach is going to be the home for the championship.”

Expanding the Mentor Cup

The plan is to create a series of local chapter qualifiers, and possibly regional qualifiers, leading up to the national finals in Myrtle Beach.

“It has been a great event and we’re looking forward to continuing to grow it and support it from our chapter’s perspective,” First Tee of Coastal Carolinas executive director Ed LaPierre said.

Tilghman said two First Tee executives were invited to play in the 2022 Mentor Cup last October. “They thoroughly enjoyed the experience and felt it was meaningful for the children in their program,” Tilghman said. “We got the call that they were excited about us becoming part of their family with the Mentor Cup.

“The developments they will have control of moving forward are exciting because they have obviously national and global contacts. Their Rolodex runs much deeper than ours. So we’re looking forward to seeing what kind of partnerships we can develop down the road to take this tournament to the next level.”

Tidewater Golf Club will host the 2023 Mentor Cup operated by the Gene's Dream Foundation on Oct. 28.
The green on the par-5 13th hole at Tidewater Golf Club in North Myrtle Beach.

Tilghman said The First Tee national headquarters will be seeking a title sponsor for the event. “The hope is to find a million-dollar sponsor,” Tilghman said.

Preceding the 2023 Mentor Cup will be a three-hour outing at Topgolf on Friday Oct. 27 sponsored by D.R. Horton homebuilders.

It will feature entertainment and education with Tilghman, Lopez and Steele, who has more than 88,000 followers on Instagram and promotes positive messages with a hashtag #MakeGolfCool. Steele has a number of sponsors in the industry and is a contributor for CBS Sports.

“He does a great job of [making golf cool] and we feel Roger is a great fit to talk to these children and show them there is a different way to view the game of golf,” Tilghman said. “You don’t have to be a professional, you don’t have to have a goal of winning tournaments. You can see it as a way to improve the quality of your life through relationships, self-discovery and so on. He is a wonderful communicator.”

Lopez will be stationed on a hole during the Mentor Cup tournament so she can play with each of the participants, and Steele will be playing as a mentor to a First Tee of the Coastal Carolinas member.

A Dream Challenge captain’s choice scramble event that will raise money for the Gene’s Dream Foundation will be held Nov. 18 at Shaftesbury Glen Golf & Fish Club.

The winners will qualify to participate in a 2024 national invitational at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri.

The First Tee held its Future Generations Tournament fundraiser Monday at Wachesaw Plantation, and longtime and impactful First Tee of Coastal Carolinas board member and volunteer Ruth Farb was the event’s honoree.

The Coastal Carolinas chapter oversees multiple subsidiary regions including the Grand Strand, which encompasses Horry and Georgetown counties.

In addition to donations to The First Tee and other charities and programs that benefit junior golf, the Gene’s Dream Foundation is considering sponsored clinics and seminars, and other area events. Tilghman plans to bring ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt to the Grand Strand to take part in a fundraising event.

“We have ideas going forward that I think are going to keep Gene’s Dream Foundation strong and relevant, and doing the work we love to do, and that’s improving the lives of these kids and raising meaningful dollars to keep these programs going that benefit them,” Tilghman said.

The inaugural Mentor Cup in 2018 featured an appearance and speaking performance by David Feherty, and Tilghman said it raised more than $100,000.

“Local support is really still the sustainability of this foundation,” Tilghman said. “We can welcome [local businesses and individuals] into our family just like The First Tee welcomed us into theirs.”

World Golf Hall of Fame member Nancy Lopez (left) and Kelly Tilghman conduct a clinic during the 2019 Mentor Cup operated by the Gene’s Dream Foundation. (Photo by Pierre Rattini, MB Buzz LLC owner/marketing director)

Tilghman life update

Tilghman, who left Golf Channel in March 2018 after a groundbreaking career, was contacted by CBS Sports vice president Ross Molloy in 2020 when she figured she was out of the golf broadcasting business for good.

“When they called it really caught me off-guard because I had been out of the scene for a few years,” said Tilghman, 54. “We agreed that I didn’t want to come surging back onto the scene. Personally I was very happy not doing television at that stage.

“I came on board for the Masters and the PGA Championship, and that was perfect to be able to call two of golf’s greatest majors, work with a team that I loved, and be able to disappear again. That was a dream come true for me. We did that the first year. Things went really well and it was very satisfying.”

Tilghman said CBS then asked her to host the broadcasts of three LPGA Tour events final rounds. “It’s been a great fit with CBS so far. I’m in my happy place, still being able to do the things I walked away from Golf Channel to do,” Tilghman said. “I have no ambitions and they’re not pulling me in any way, so I think we’re in a good sweet spot and we’ll see what the future holds.”

At Golf Channel, Tilghman fulfilled several roles, including serving as the first full-time female play-by-play announcer for PGA Tour tournaments.

She is a member of both the Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame and South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame.

Tilghman has become an avid tennis player and enjoys the exercise it provides while being less time-consuming than golf, and she spends most of her time raising her 10-year-old daughter, Ryan.

“My primary job is to be a great mom and try to raise a good daughter,” Tilghman said. “She’s thriving here in the Orlando area and I couldn’t be more proud of the woman she’s becoming.”

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