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Oakland native shares love of golf with underserved youth

Jefferson Award Winner: Preston Pinkney
Jefferson Award Winner: Preston Pinkney 03:28

OAKLAND – This week's Jefferson Award winner is an Oakland native who wants to introduce as many young people as he can to the sport that he says changed the course of his life.

Excitement builds as Preston Pinkney matches each student with the perfect-sized golf clubs.

"This is where it all starts. This is the fun part right here," Pinkney smiled.

He knows all about finding the right fit - in golf, and in life.

More than 20 years ago, he was at a crossroads, considering a future in rap or hip hop. His mother urged him to get a job.

"Even before, when I was in school, my teacher told me and he said, 'Look man, you're coming down to this 'Y' in the road. Either you're going to be successful in life, or you're going to be dead or in jail,'" Pinkney recalled.

A mentor, Jeff Callaway of Ace Kids Golf Program, offered him work as a van driver for the junior golf program.

That catapulted Pinkney onto a whole new course.

"Lot of the music I was dealing with was negative. But everything in golf has been positive. Positive experiences, positive outcomes," Pinkney remembered.

Over the next two decades, Pinkney shot up the ranks at Ace Kids Golf Program.

As the nonprofit's director since 2006, he's teaching golf to underserved Oakland-area kids aged 5 to 18 at Lake Chabot Golf Course. Participation has soared from more than 100 students a year to nearly 1,000.

They learn life skills and build discipline and confidence through lessons and tournament play.

There are fees for participants, but scholarships are available so no one gets turned away because they cannot afford it.

Teen competitor Marlon Jones of St. Mary's High School in Berkeley, now passes on what he's learned. Thanks to Pinkney, he even got to experience the legendary Pebble Beach course with basketball star Stephen Curry.

"You don't see a lot of people like me play in tournaments and competing against other people that look like me. Really just makes you feel like you belong," Jones said.

Pinkney networks and fundraises to open those doors of opportunity.

Funding, equipment, and access to other courses grow from partnerships like the one with Stephen and Ayesha Curry's foundation, Eat Learn Play. Its CEO, Chris Helfrich, says the kids are the winners.

"There's an entire generation of young Oakland golfers who are benefitting from being under Preston Pinkney," Helfrich said.

In addition, Preston and his wife, JaVonnie, founded The Pinkney Foundation in 2018 to support programs that help kids develop such skills as financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

Pinkney's mentor Terry T_Mr. Community calls him a great role model.

"He does a lot of good things. He's very consistent at what he does and he's very determined at what he wants to be," he said.

For giving thousands of underserved youth a foundation in golf, and life, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Preston Pinkney.

Notes: A partnership with the Oakland Unified School District has started a new Girls Love Golf program of golf clinics.

And Pinkney is excited to help open a golf training facility in downtown Oakland in April, in hopes of introducing 20,000 kids to golf in three years.

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