‘They’re my family’The Drew Charter School’s golf teams support each other on the road to success
September 01, 2020
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Meet Solomon Dobbs, a Drew Charter School and First Tee of Metro Atlanta alum
They met dignitaries, received rings, got semi-famous. But Solomon Dobbs’ wild ride as a member of the Charles R. Drew Charter School squad that won the Georgia Class A boys’ golf championship in 2019 – the first all-Black high school team and first public school in Atlanta to do so – is over.
Dobbs has moved on. He now plays on the golf team at Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he earned a 3.7 grade-point average last semester. Because of the pandemic, he lives at home and takes his classes on Zoom. But at least three days a week he gets in his Hyundai Elantra and drives to Drew Charter’s home course, East Lake’s Charlie Yates Golf Course, a nine-hole Rees Jones design, where he practices amongst his old coaches and teammates. Because it’s never really over.
“They’re my family,” says Dobbs, 18.
If you need a break from the chaos and the fear, from the torrent of tragedies, from polling figures brought to you at all hours because, you know, Nov. 3, then behold Dobbs and Drew Charter.
Something is definitely going right here.
This marks the 20th playing of the TOUR Championship at East Lake, Bobby Jones’ old stomping grounds and the centerpiece of a comprehensive community revitalization in Southeast Atlanta.
Support from the TOUR Championship reached $3.5 million last year – a tournament record – which went to the East Lake Foundation, Grove Park Foundation, Purpose Built Schools Atlanta and the First Tee of Metro Atlanta. The East Lake Foundation, in turn, supports Drew Charter, which is churning out citizen golfers like Dobbs. Golf continues to be the catalyst for it all.
Or is it family? Sarai Dobbs, Solomon’s little sister, is a rising senior who is expected to challenge for the No. 1 spot on Drew’s girls team in the spring. She hit the ceremonial first tee shot at the TOUR Championship in 2017, while Solomon did it twice (2016, 2018).
“I did better the second time,” he says. “The first time I couldn’t see the ball.”
Sarai, too, admits she was nervous. “People are there watching, you’re on TV, you can get anxious and overwhelmed, but I was really excited to hit it.” She striped it down the middle.
Their parents, Tobars, managing partner of a real estate equity firm, and Leslie, a human resources manager for a digital company, have watched in awe and delight. Neither comes from a golf family, but when they enrolled their kids at Drew Charter, a cradle-to-college school (pre-K through 12th grade) where golf is taught in P.E. by instructors from The First Tee, it didn’t matter.Members of the developmental golf team at Drew Charter’s middle school. (Courtesy of Charles R. Drew Charter School)
“Having our children attend Charles R. Drew Charter School was probably one of the best decisions my wife and I have ever made,” Tobars says, “because it’s had such a tremendous impact on them and their education. Of course, golf has been a focal point of that. The leadership at Drew has been absolutely phenomenal at creating an educational model, and having them participate in that educational community has been a godsend for them and our entire family.”
Solomon continues to be connected to the TOUR Championship. Thursday afternoon, the day before the tournament begins, he will join Jakari Harris, another Atlanta junior golf product who recently graduated from Hampton University, an HBCU in Virginia; TOUR pros Zach Johnson and Ryan Palmer; plus two celebrity guests for a closest-to-the-pin contest in the Golf With A Purpose Charity Challenge at East Lake. His long-term goal is to return to Drew as the golf coach.
Joe Weems, the current coach, welcomes it.
“One of the great things about coaching,” says Weems, 47, “is teaching others to coach.”
He talks with pride about “the pipeline” – the team’s Cook brothers (Jalon and Matthew), Leonard brothers (Marcus and Myron), and McCrary siblings (Christopher and Jordan). And the Dobbs family, of course. And others. Upperclassmen. Underclassmen. Varsity. J.V. Middle-school prospects.
Like any family, Drew golf alumni keep in touch and share their successes.
Anthony Ford, formerly the Eagles’ No. 1 player, is at North Carolina A&T on a golf scholarship. Connor Mason, another player from the 2019 state championship team, plays for the College of Wooster. Treveon McCurty is vying for a spot on Savannah State’s team. Simone Obelton, the first female golfer to represent Drew at state, will graduate from Tuskegee as an engineer.
This year’s girls team, with Sarai Dobbs, Hailey Fisher, Adia Barnes and Shelby Ross, may be Drew’s best shot at a state title, assuming the season happens. Weems’ biggest regret from last season – canceled, alas, due to the pandemic – was that the girls didn’t get a chance to compete.
“Sarai has been our No. 1 for a long time,” he says. “She’s been our rock. She’s been really a great leader, but we like to move it around and give all our kids a chance to lead. Last year Hailey was captain, and Sarai supported her. There’s a lot of kids who look up to Sarai and she knows that.”Rory McIlroy poses with members of the The Charles R. Drew Charter School. (Courtesy of Charles R. Drew Charter School)
The success of the golf program has been contagious, with Drew adding a J.V. program last year. Athletic Director Tracy Edwards – a former basketball player at Georgia who was teammates with Angie Ball, Bubba Watson’s wife – tried the sport and is now hopelessly addicted.
“I’ve set some future goals for myself to be competitive, thanks to the kids,” Edwards says. “My best was 108, so I’m still taking notes and trying to find the right clubs and different things.
“It’s humbling and full of life lessons,” she adds. “It’s a good game to learn.”
As for the chaos and fear in America, and tragedies that seem to roll in like the tides, Edwards and others at Drew Charter are acutely aware of what’s happening in the wider world. They know the names Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. When will it end?
“The only way we will stamp out racism in this country is through unity,” Tobars says. “Each one of us must stand up to racial injustice wherever, and whenever, it is encountered. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: ‘Injustice anywhere, is injustice everywhere.’ We are human beings. We can calculate the speed of light, and we can colonize outer space. Surely we can rid this country of its racist tendencies, traits, and habits, but only if the will to do it exists.”
Drew Charter had peaceful protests after Floyd’s death, underlining the school’s commitment to equality for all people and bringing closure to systemic racism and oppression.
“We want to be a beacon of hope for our community,” Weems says. “A model of excellence where we break all of those stereotypes that people might have about African American golfers. Be the best, show integrity, and when faced with racism make sure to fight it in a positive way.”
Being excellent means continuing to practice hard, work out in the off-season, eat right – the team’s second-year strength and conditioning coach sees to that. It means keeping family close even while widening the circle to help nearby high schools that might be less golf-savvy. And it means support for alumni like Solomon so that he can help others coming up through the pipeline.
The family is thriving, the connections growing ever stronger. Two decades into the partnership between the TOUR Championship and East Lake, there’s so much going right.