Button Hole

Under dark puffy clouds on a warm mid-July evening, a swarm of golfers braved the threatening skies,determined to squeeze in a round at Button Hole before the skies opened up.

Protected under an awning on a patio, sat a group of Button Hole supporters who had been invited to hearfrom PGA tour winners and Rhode Island natives Billy Andrade and Brad Faxon, Button Hole’s honorary co-chairs.

The group, among them 91 year-old Button Hole founder Ed Mauro, also heard from a young man from Providence, Rhode Island’s urban core. Wearing his signature black and white checkered bucket hat and a wide smile that stretched from ear-to-ear, 14 year-old Jayden Simao proudly announced he had just shot a 27. He picked up a club for the first time just two months prior. Simao wrapped up by telling the crowd he hopes to one day play on the PGA Tour.

No one was more pleased to hear this than Andrade, who had offered tips to Simao earlier in the day. Andrade, now on the PGA Champions Tour, has fond memories of being introduced to golf by his father at Wanumetonomy Country Club, a private golf club on Aquidneck Island.

Simao doesn’t have that luxury. But what he does have right in his own neighborhood is Button Hole. The nonprofit 9-hole course and learning facility is chipping away and leveling the playing field by providing young people from underserved communities with access to life changing opportunities through golf.

Breaking barriers has been Button Hole’s goal since Mauro turned a former gravel pit in the heart of Providence’s underserved neighborhoods into an “oasis of green” more than 20 years ago. Since Button Hole opened more than two decades ago its mission has been very clear – to make golf affordable and accessible for everyone – regardless of race, ethnicity, financial status, age, gender, or physical ability.

Whether or not he follows in Andrade’s footsteps and achieves his goal of playing on the PGA tour will remain to be seen, but the Latino teen who lives in one of Providence’s most underserved neighbors has access to the game and a passion for a new sport – thanks to Button Hole.

“I am extremely proud of what Button Hole has done to introduce people, especially our youth to the wonderful game of golf,” said Andrade. “Kids like my friend Jayden are now getting the opportunity to learn the great game I love. Opportunity is all that kids need.”

Button Hole is providing that opportunity. Adhering to its mission to make golf affordable and accessible to everyone, Button Hole welcomes more than 1000 youth each year, the majority of which (750) receive a “scholarship” and participate at no cost.

“We really wanted to make golf affordable and accessible, especially for kids who normally wouldn’t come from money. We really want to have a place where kids could learn the game, have a lot of fun, be safe and really put something back into the neighborhood,’ said Button Hole Executive Director Don Wright.

In addition to fundamentals, Button Hole uses golf as a vehicle to teach life lessons that extend well beyond the greens. The public course strives to enrich the lives of youth and teens by providing facilities and programs that develop strong character, teach life values, respect, leadership and success through the game of golf.

“It’s like a relief, finding a golf course that’s affordable and anytime I can just come here, bring some friends and always have a good time here,” said Simao. “I wouldn’t have had this opportunity without Button Hole. Golf has given me patience. You need a lot of practice. You’re not always going to be perfect at something. That’s something that golf taught me.”

Button Hole deepens its roots into communities by partnering with local organizations to host a free summer camp for hundreds of youth. Fundamentals, etiquette and basic rules are introduced. Equipment and transportation are also provided.

Not every youth who is introduced to golf at Button Hole has the dream of one day playing on the PGA tour. Some just want to have fun in the fresh air.

“Golf is very fun. It doesn’t really matter if you get it in, it matters about the fun that you have,” said a young boy from Providence’s West End Community Center.

To further engage youth in the urban core – Button Hole has placed golf simulators and provides instruction at several city schools so students have the opportunity to be introduced to try golf right at their school.

Chris Cruz is an instructor at Button Hole and an educator at Achievement First School. The public charter school is composed primarily of minority youth and sits less than a mile from Button Hole.

“Our job is to get these kids involved and provide access- regardless of their race, background, or financial accessibility. It’s about opportunity and being fair. It’s as simple as that,” said Cruz.

So Cruz shared his passion for golf with his students, but couldn’t quite get them to follow him down the street to Button Hole.

“It’s hard to convince kids to go to a course before they have even tried golf,” said Cruz. “So I thought, I’m going to bring the course to them.”

Working with Button Hole, Cruz installed the first simulator in a Providence public school. The students viewed the simulator as cool, similar to a new electronic game. The interest in golf exploded.

“We went from 6-8 kids to now we have 140 kids interested in golf,” said Cruz. “Once they get started, they make it over to Button Hole to play.”

Now there are five simulators placed in schools across Providence and another in a YMCA. “We’re growing the game in this area,” said Cruz. “That’s Button Hole’s goal.”

“A lesson in Golf … A Lesson in Life.”