By Charlene Giannetti
Anyone who has an athletic child knows the commitment involved. It takes a special person, however, to make a commitment to help other people’s children achieve their athletic dreams. Pat Saunders has spent more than twenty years working tirelessly for the American Junior Golf Association, serving on the organization’s board of directors, traveling internationally with the golfers, and serving as tournament chairman for local events. Recently, the AJGA recognized Pat’s efforts, awarding her the prestigious 2009 Digger Smith Award (photo, left below). “Pat is a prime example of a person who never stops giving to others,” said AJGA’s Executive Director Stephen Hamblin.
Although Pat is a golfer herself, helping young people succeed at the game has become a passion for her. “I love meeting the kids and traveling with them,” she said. Her satisfaction comes from seeing young golfers benefit from their involvement with AJGA. With more than 80 tournaments each year, AJGA provides a high profile venue for young golfers to compete and earn college scholarships. Many of AJGA’s graduates ultimately turn professional, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, among them. In 2003, Saunders traveled to Sweden with a group of young women who competed in the Junior Solheim Cup. At least three of those women—Brittany Lincicome, Paula Creamer, and Amanda Blumenhurst—are now competing professionally. The last two years, she has accompanied both boys and girls to the Evian Masters Juniors Cup in Evian, France. (Photo , top, shows Pat with Annie Park, left, and Kyung Kim, members of the 2008 U.S. Evian Masters Juniors Cup Team).
Saunders’ dedication to young athletes does not stop with golf. As a member of the board at Asphalt Green, she has been active in raising money for the organization’s Swim for the Future, an initiative launched after 9/11 that does for young swimmers what the AJGA does for young golfers: provides the resources to cover the costs for these students to swim and train at Asphalt Green. Many of these Swim for the Future recipients have gone on to qualify for Olympic trials, hold national records, and are members of the U.S.A. National Swim Team. “These students have great futures in the world of swimming,” said Saunders. She also supports Asphalt Green’s efforts to teach public school children how to swim through the Waterproofing Program.
Saunders has been a member of Asphalt Green’s Masters Swim Team for sixteen years. (Photo above, Saunders with members of the Masters Swim Team and, on left, Olympians Craig Beardsley and Janel Jorgensen). When two member of the team, Andrew Fisher and Doug Irgang, perished on 9/11, Saunders, fellow Masters swimmers, Asphalt Green staff, and coaches at Asphalt Green met with the families. “We wanted to raise money for competitive juniors swimmers at Asphalt Green to help those who do not have the money to cover the costs of training and competition,” she explained. With the support of the Fisher and Irgang families, the first Swim for the Future benefit was held in November, 2001, and raised $150,000. “People came out and the dollars poured in,” Saunders said. On September 12, the Ninth Annual Swim for the Future was held, a brunch, preceded by a practice swim dedicated to those who died, a “lap of silence” swim by Masters swimmers, and a relay race featuring scholarship recipients and Olympic swimmers. (Photo below, Saunders, front, with Olympians and members of the Asphalt Green Board).
In addition to the AJGA and Asphalt Green, Saunders has aided children’s causes through the Legal Aid Society, serving in the past as chairman of the Civil Support Division and a board member. For many years, she was instrumental in organizing the society’s yearly Christmas Party for children living in shelters, as well as the “Thinking Out Loud,” luncheon with speakers that included Linda Fairstein and Anna Quindlen. She now serves on the agency’s policy committee. As a member of the St. Vincent’s Auxiliary, she co-chaired the group’s annual benefit and worked on the annual Christmas boutique. And while she dedicates most of her time to benefit children, for sixteen years she oversaw a weekly lunch for senior citizens at the Church of St. Thomas More on East 89th Street.
Saunders’ drive to give back began when she was growing up in Brooklyn. In high school, she spent her off hours volunteering at a nursing home and for the Red Cross. She received her bachelor of arts degree in anthropology from Binghamton University, where she now serves on the Foundation Board. She received her master’s degree in social work from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., in 1969. (Photo left, Saunders with three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Rowdy Gaines, a board member ar Asphalt Green).
Saunders, and her husband, Paul, an attorney, raised their two sons, Paul Jr., now a cardio thoracic surgeon, and Michael, a corporate executive, in Manhattan. When her sons were young and she stopped working fulltime, Pat became involved at their school (she served as secretary, vice president, and president of St. Bernard’s Parents Association) and lent a hand with sports activities for children at the Apawamis Club in Rye. Both sons played golf and were members of the club’s swim team. After many years of watching golf on TV, she began to take lessons herself. Her involvement with AJGA began in 1990 when she served on the committee for the first AJGA event at Apawamis. For ten years, she served as chair of player services for the Buick Classic, held at the Westchester Country Club. Other tournaments she has worked at include the PGA Championship at Winged Foot and the U.S. Open in Bethpage.
Saunders knows what so many parents have discovered: that being involved in sports like golf or swimming benefits children. “A sport like golf teaches a young person patience, that if you want to do well, you have to put in the time,” she said. “They learn respect, for themselves, fellow players, and the course.” During each AJGA event, the group holds “thank you” writing parties, where the young golfers write notes to the sponsors and volunteers. (Photo below, Saunders with the 2008 U.S. Evian Masters Juniors Cup Team).
Now a grandmother of four (Michael and his wife, Kathryn, have two children, Tatum, 4, and Henry, 2, and Paul Jr. and his wife, Susie, also have two children, Erin, who will turn four in October, and William, two and a half), Saunders can often be found in the pool helping them learn to swim. She continues to swim on Asphalt Green’s Masters Swim Team, in the pool three times a week before 6 a.m.
Although Pat admits she doesn’t work on her own golf game as much as she would like, she loves the experience of playing golf. “There are so many special moments in travel,” she said. One year on vacation in Kapalua, Hawaii, she remembers taking a path and coming out on a promontory that afforded breath-taking vistas of the islands and ocean. “If you didn’t play golf, you wouldn’t have that experience,” she said. “It was like being in heaven.”
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
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For more information about the American Junior Golf Associations, go to www.ajga.org
For more information about Asphalt Green, go to www.asphaltgreen.org/