Two things have remained constant for former NBA superstar Charles Barkley: his love for First Tee in Lakeland and futility at playing golf.

Barkley has shown up for 15 straight years at the YMCA First Tee’s annual Barkley, Bean and Bryant celebration. It’s held at the YMCA Par 3 Golf Center on George Jenkins Boulevard in West Lakeland. On Friday, several hundred people showed up to support First Tee.

The organization mentors girls and boys in the lessons of golf — and life.

Barkley entertained the crowd with some remarks before he, event sponsors and kids played the course. He’s donated more than $100,000 to First Tee over the years.

He said he’s contributed because he can and because he’s been very lucky.

He said he got paid lots of money “to dribble a basketball” and later, as a broadcaster, to talk about basketball.

“It’s like stealing,” Barkley said. Playing basketball “is not saving the world.”

Barkley aid people have to be good at just one thing to be successful. For him, that thing was basketball. Barkley enjoys golfing but readily admits he’s not too good at it. 

He explained that in basketball there were some guys who practiced great but wilted under the bright lights in front of  big crowds. He said he is like that with golf.

And true to form, with a big crowd watching, Barkley  promptly butchered his first shot. It traveled 30 feet — maybe.

“God bless me,” he said.

First Tee has raised $2.5 million to benefit kids over the years.

One of the beneficiaries is Arlynn Spence, an accomplished high school golfer who will be playing in the First Tee’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

She told the crowd she loves First Tee and will use the lessons she has learned for the rest of her life. “I’ve never met a more supporting community.”

Lakeland City Manager Tony Delgado said First Tee is a great asset to the city and the kids it mentors. “It’s not just about the sport, but life’s lessons,” he said.

The event is named for Barkley and Lakeland golfers Andy Bean and Brad Bryant. 

“First Tee is a way to give back,” Bean said. “It’s teaches kids about respect and to treat people the way they would want to be treated.”

 Bean, 66, concedes his golf game isn’t quite up to par, but he still enjoys the game.

When he a professional, a really wayward shot was cause for great concern, Bean said.

“Now, if I hit one offline, I just leave it there.”

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