Since 2011, Brightspot has used the game of golf to bring together diverse groups of teenagers, veterans and people with intellectual disabilities to inspire each other on and off the golf course through their perseverance, joy, and courage.
Kasey Torres, a 15-year old from Los Angeles with a 1.7 handicap, who regularly shoots in the mid-70s; Sam Wimbrow, an 18-year old from North Carolina and one of the top First Tee golfers in the United States, who earlier this year shot a 68; Matthew Gang, a 13-year old Special Olympics athlete from Virginia, who started golfing at the age 6; and Sergeant Leroy Petry, a Medal of Honor recipient from Fort Lewis, Washington, who lost an arm saving the lives of two fellow Army Rangers during battle in Afghanistan.
My favorite part about the Brightspot Pro-Am is showing that I can compete on the same course as the best players in the world
On Monday, June 23, 2014, these golfers teed off in a foursome with Jordan Spieth, who at that time was the 9th ranked golfer in the world, a PGA TOUR champion and reigning PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, at the 2014 Congressional Pro-Am, sponsored by Brightspot. That moment on the first tee box, three years in the making, was the culmination of a three year journey to develop a unique and life-changing tournament for golfers from around the country.
At the 2011 Chevron World Challenge, David Gang, co-Founder and CEO, of Brightspot, watched with great pride as his son, Matthew, who has Down syndrome, walked 18 holes with Tiger Woods – the first time a Special Olympics athlete had ever walked a course with the top-ranked player in the world. Inspired by this moment and what it meant to his son, as well as the mission of Special Olympics Unified Sports®, Gang sought an opportunity to pair more Special Olympics athletes with PGA professionals.
In 2012, with the then-AT&T National returning to Congressional Country Club, just thirty minutes from Brightspot's headquarters in Reston, Virginia, Gang saw an opportunity. With two foursomes in the tournament's Wednesday pro-am, Gang invited four of the top Special Olympics golfers from around the country – Tyler Lagasse (Massachusetts), Tyler Whitehurst (Florida), Scott Rohrer (South Carolina), and Joel Murray (Louisiana) – to participate. Joined by a Brightspot customer, Derrick Kraemer, and PGA TOUR professionals, Gary Woodland and Brendan Steele, the event epitomized the ideals of opportunity and inclusion that Gang sought to promote as part of the mission of Brightspot.
Being included in Brightspot's Pro-Am has meant so much to the veterans and their families. It is also an opportunity to remind everyone that there is no charity involved in anything we do - it is recognition of a debt that we owe these incredible men and women.
Later that year, Gang and Rohrer teamed up at the Tiger Woods World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in Westlake, California, where they were joined by Evin Davis, a high school junior from The First Tee of Pasadena. The following spring, Gang and the Tiger Woods Foundation met with a group of wounded veterans and made plans to include them in the inaugural tournament scheduled for June. Through those connections, the initial goal of connecting Special Olympics golfers and PGA professionals expanded to include The First Tee and wounded veterans. With the tournament’s goals and long-term vision established, the inaugural Brightspot Pro-Am teed off in June 2013.
At the inaugural pro-am, twelve foursomes comprised of athletes from Special Olympics, golfers from The First Tee of Greater Washington D.C., wounded servicemen from Feherty’s Troops First Foundation, and Brightspot clients and employees took to the Blue Course at Congressional for a memorable afternoon.
In all of The First Tee events I have participated in, the most valuable experience has been learning from the other golfers around me. The opportunity to play Congressional with professionals, watching how they handle difficult situations and talking with them about their approach, is going to help me continue to improve, putting me closer to reaching my goals.
The following year, the event expanded with participants joining from coast to coast and was extended to a week-long experience that included a career day at Brightspot, a tour of the United States Capitol, a visit to Washington, D.C.'s museums, monuments, and memorials, and a behind-the-scenes tour of the Quicken Loans National.
In 2019, with The National relocating to Detroit, the Brightspot Unified Challenge continued its evolution with the creation of an exciting two-day team match play event pitting Stars versus Stripes. The 48 participants competed in a combination of best ball, alternate shot, and individual 9-hole matches at The Golf Club at Creighton Farms.
Starting from a simple walk inside the ropes alongside Tiger Woods, the Brightspot Unified Challenge has become a life-changing event for the hundreds of participants. From Vince Egan meeting his teammate, Randy Nantz, to cheer him on at a triathlon in Colorado to Deion Shepherd returning to Brightspot first as an intern and eventually as a full-time software engineer, the Brightspot Unified Challenge has changed perceptions, inspired future leaders, and created a more inclusive world.