Las Vegas Sands puts First Tee golfers in the front row for LPGA tournament


Nelly Korda’s one-stroke victory over Hannah Green during last month’s Mizuho Americas Open, gave crowds gathered at the Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey a chance to see today’s LPGA elite with what could very well be its future stars.

And seeing all of it were dozens of young Long Island golfers and their families — all able to attend thanks to the Las Vegas Sands.

Some 140 tickets were issued to members of First Tee — an organization that draws young golfers between 7 and 18 from communities like Uniondale, Hempstead, East Meadow and Garden City — through the Sands Cares Youth Empowerment Initiative.

Launched last year, the initiative has hosted sessions for young local athletes to meet with sports stars like “Miracle Met” Art Shamsky from the 1969 World Series-winning New York Mets.

“The primary goals of the Sands Cares Youth Empowerment Initiative include providing young people with access to great role models, unique learning opportunities, and the resources they need to make positive contributions to their communities,” said Ron Reese, senior vice president of Las Vegas Sands, in a release. “By partnering once again with First Tee, we continue to give new energy and motivation to some of Long Island’s future golfers to reach for their dreams.”

First Tee works focuses on minority and under-privileged young people in the area as a way to instill good values, develop character, and promote healthy choices — all while using golf.

The organization first partnered with Sands last September with a golf clinic led by two-time Major champion Collin Morikawa.

“Exposing our students to the very best in their respective field — in particular when they get to experience world-class venues such as Liberty National — is paramount to our mission of developing life skills and educational opportunities through golf,” First Tee executive director Matt Rawitzer said.

The Mizuho Americas Open tournament enjoyed its second year at Liberty National, promoting women athletes and setting new standards of competition and collaboration. This year, 120 LPGA players competed alongside 24 top-ranked junior girls on the American Junior Golf Association Tour.

“The Sands has really stepped up to be a great supporter of our work in the Nassau County community,” said Daniel Chelel, First Tee’s chief development officer. “We’re always looking to expose our youth to new experiences, and certainly this professional golf tournament is one of those.”

This partnership gave students opportunities they never would have had otherwise, according to Chelel.

“They just wouldn’t have access to the tournament, or may not even be thinking about the tournament without First Tee and the Sands in support,” he said.

Callen Williams, the program director at First Tee’s Eisenhower Park facility, grew up with First Tee.

“This was one of those programs that gave me that positive outlet,” he said. “It gave me a sport that — while I was hesitant at first — a sport that I ended up falling in love with down the line. That provided me with a career that I am in love with, working with First Tee, but also just exposing me just to the game and to some travel opportunities through golf, through meeting other people, and just giving me positive life skills just to help me navigate the world.”

The Las Vegas Sands plans to redevelop the Nassau Coliseum site in Uniondale into a new destination of stores, restaurants, meeting spaces, and a casino. It’s said it will employ 8,500 people to build it, and another 5,000 once it’s up and running.

The casino portion — which has received some of the most attention in the project — would first require Sands to win a downstate New York gaming license, which could happen as early as next year.