Arnold Palmer Learning Center. Courtesy of First Tee.

Benito Taormina’s life in golf started at age 5. That’s the year his grandfather, Tom Mikula, got him involved with First Tee Pittsburgh.

By February 2020, Taormina, 16, of Greenfield, was traveling to Naples, Florida, to take part in tournaments against other players from regional First Tee chapters.

“It started with putting and chipping but it was a lot of life lessons, as well,” says Taormina. “First Tee really helped me with life. The core values of responsibility and honesty – I feel that really shaped me as a person.”

The junior at Taylor Allderdice High School hopes to study golf course management at Penn State University.

Taormina will be celebrating alongside First Tee Pittsburgh when the organization hosts a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, Sept. 10, at its new Arnold Palmer Learning Center

Located in Schenley Park at the Bob O’Connor Golf Course, the state-of-the-art building is the result of a $6 million campaign staged by First Tee and city officials, says Eric Amato, First Tee Pittsburgh’s president and CEO. It’s the organization’s first location in the city.

The learning center was built on principles of community accessibility, providing the best facilities for First Tee Pittsburgh, and creating a place that would last 100 years. First Tee mentors 5,000 aspiring golfers each year.

The 14,000-square-foot building features a 1,000-square-foot synthetic putting green, a workout area, conference and community space, and two Trackman simulators that allow Pittsburgh golfers to play in different elements and at different courses, such as Pebble Beach or St. Andrews.

“You can whisk around the world without going to the airport,” Amato says jokingly.

Amato’s two children, ages 10 and 14, are involved in First Tee Pittsburgh and he feels the nonprofit organization does a great job blending golf instruction with more meaningful, character-building activities.

“They go hand in hand,” says Amato. “We are out to make someone seamlessly integrate those things with each other.”

This Saturday, Sept. 11, First Tee Pittsburgh will display those concepts during a Tee It Forward family event, sponsored by PNC Bank, from 4 to 7 p.m. The event features kids’ activities, such as a putting contest, long drive contest, closest-to-the-pin contest and a chipping clinic. There will also be basket raffles, food trucks and auctions, including a chance to win a trip to Pebble Beach. Individual tickets are $50 (children 12 and under are free). Registration is required. 

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who plans to attend the ribbon-cutting celebration on Friday, says he is excited for the development at the Bob O’Connor Golf Course.

I’d like to thank Councilman Corey O’Connor, our partners at First Tee Pittsburgh, the community and the Department of Public Works for their hard work to create this state-of-the-art facility that will re-energize this public golf course by providing an equitable opportunity for neighbors of all ages to come learn the game of golf,” says Peduto. 

Justin Vellucci

A former news reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, Justin Vellucci currently freelances for a number of Pittsburgh publications and works as a staff writer for the music magazines PopMatters and Spectrum Culture. He has been contributing to NEXTpittsburgh since January 2020. He lives in Greenfield.