Story By Gail Brown
Photography By Keith Ketchum and Chris Campbell

Thanks to major contributions by Braddock Built Renovations, The First Tee of Brunswick County is holding its first sessions of camps in the new Carolinas Life Skills and Leadership Academy.

It is safe to say that Betsy Braddock Palmer loves a good challenge. When The First Tee of Brunswick County needed a new facility for its Carolinas Life Skills and Leadership Academy, the spunky president and owner of Shallotte-based Braddock Built Renovations was eager to get to work on the project that would impact thousands of youth throughout North Carolina and the eastern United States.

The opportunity was offered to her by Rusty and Carol Petrea, founders and visionaries of the 28-acre golf park at Cinghiale Creek. Their golf campus, northwest of Shallotte, includes a 9-hole par 3 course by Tom Watson Design as well as an 18-hole course playing to three target greens. Cinghiale Creek is home to the Carol S. Petrea Youth Golf Foundation, Inc., which oversees the activities of a number of groups, including the Carolina Life Skills and Leadership Academy (CLSLA); The First Tees of Brunswick County, The Grand Strand, Eastern North Carolina and the Cape Fear Region; and The Military Affiliate Program of Camp Lejeune. The Petreas offered Braddock the job of building a multi-use residential camp facility for CLSLA, and she accepted.

In addition to the normal demands of building a residential camp facility, Braddock met major challenges soon after the groundbreaking. The project was only partially funded, and the economy was coming to a standstill. The construction schedule for the structure was surpassing the normal eight months for a similar-sized facility. In fact, the project was approaching its second year when Braddock helped push it forward. With Braddock Built Renovations contributing nearly $400,000 of the pro-bono project-management services of Braddock, her father, Jim, and her close friend, Jimmy Durham, the facility, with a final tab of $1.5 million, was completed.

Braddock, a Richmond native and licensed general contractor, is eager to share the accolades for the finished project.

“We all realized it cost so much to have the delays,” she explains. “It was better to go ahead and complete the building as seamlessly as we could.”

Her subcontractors helped as well, each trimming costs as much as possible.

“The local subcontractors and vendors played a big role in that, too, because they knew this was a good thing,” she says. “Every single one of them whittled down their costs to make this as cost effective as possible in a very difficult economy. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Rebecca Albin, executive director of The First Tee of Brunswick County, worked closely with Braddock throughout the construction process. Albin is eager to show off the nonprofit organization’s new, 11,000-square-foot, steel-frame structure that marks the entrance to the Cinghiale Creek campus.

The residential camp building is the capstone to the seven-year-old campus, which in addition to the two golf courses also includes a driving range and an office building. Albin readily reveals that there is only one other building like it in the entire The First Tee network, and that one is located in Tennessee.

“That one, however, is also used for paying camps,” Albin says. “So The First Tee of Brunswick County is home to the only residential academy building that is 100 percent for the kids.”

The CLSLA facility includes a gathering space that doubles as a dining room and classroom. It has a full-service kitchen, a mechanical room that doubles as storage and a bag-storage room that is accessible from the outside of the building. Another classroom will be furnished with flat-screen TVs, a game system and bean-bag chairs to offer campers a bit of respite in their small amount of downtime. Another room includes two hitting bays with nets where the campers can practice their swings, video their work and review their form using swing-analysis software on iPads. State-of-the art technology is included throughout the building.

The building includes five dorm rooms that sleep 10 campers each, with separate bath and shower facilities for boys and girls and one handicapped-accessible bathroom.

“All of the furniture in the bunk rooms was built by volunteers,” Braddock says.

The four bunk rooms for camp counselors each sleep four, with private bathrooms in each. The bunk rooms are divided by a hallway with two camper and two counselor bunkrooms on the left and three camper and two counselor bunkrooms on the right. Braddock explains the design: “It can house 20 girls and 30 boys or 30 girls and 20 boys.” The locking doors in between the two sections were designed intentionally by Braddock, whose daughter is a The First Tee participant and future CLSLA camper.

In fact, Braddock’s journey with The First Tee began with her daughter, Powell, upon moving to Brunswick County from Atlanta in 2007. She needed a change of scenery, and the Ocean Isle Beach area was the natural choice because her parents had a beach house here. Jim and Sarah Braddock “followed Powell” from Atlanta three months later, in a permanent move to their beach house, and introduced their granddaughter to The First Tee. Braddock says it has been a great experience for her, as a proud and protective mom, to watch her now 12-year-old daughter grow so much in The First Tee program.

This summer marks the inaugural season for the Carolinas Life Skills and Leadership Academy Camp. Each week from June through August, up to 50 residential campers from ages 14 to 17 will experience an extensive golf and leadership skills curriculum.

This curriculum was designed by The First Tee of Brunswick County founder and former Navy captain Rusty Petrea of Ocean Isle Beach and his business partner, retired Lieutenant General Marv Covault of Pinehurst. The two men have adapted their program called “Vision to Execution,” which is currently offered to executives of Fortune 500 companies. This strategic planning curriculum has been tailored to fit the 14- to 17-year-old age group. In addition to a strong leadership focus, one goal of the program is to help the kids to build a framework for a service project to take back to their communities. Braddock looks forward to Powell’s turn at camp in the next few years as she is really impressed with The First Tee’s Nine Core Values and Nine Healthy Habits.

Many of these values, like confidence, honesty, integrity, responsibility and respect, come naturally to Braddock and were reinforced by her parents at an early age. These values are what have made Braddock Built Renovations a success since its founding by Jim Braddock in Atlanta in 1994. When her father retired in 2005, he turned the reigns over to Braddock, and she has grown the company from word of mouth ever since.

Being active in the community is important to Braddock and being involved with The First Tee is the perfect fit for this active woman. Her contributions to The First Tee will pay off for years to come with the thousands of youth whose lives will be affected by time spent at the Carolina Life Skills and Leadership Academy.