Charlie DeLucca, golf ambassador and children's advocate, dies

Sports Friday, September 20, 2019

Charlie DeLucca, a well-known booster of golf in South Florida who promoted access to the game for kids of all backgrounds and abilities, died Sept. 9.
Charles Anthony DeLucca II was 78, and lived most of his life in Miami Lakes.
DeLucca’s son, Charlie DeLucca III, said his father had been battling heart disease.
He was the first golf pro at Miami Lakes Country Club, now known as Shula’s Golf Club.
More than 50 years ago, DeLucca started the First Tee Miami junior golf program, which is run from International Links Miami - Melreese Country Club.
He also organized the first Doral Publix Junior Golf Classic more than three decades ago as a tuneup for the Orange Bowl Junior Golf Invitational. Boys and girls ages 4 to 18 who are from 36 nations compete annually in the event at the Trump National Doral resort.
DeLucca was a champion for kids with disabilities who wanted to play golf, and some went on to compete in the Special Olympics.
DeLucca was called ‘the godfather of South Florida junior golf’ in profiles written about him.
There’s another reason why he was called the godfather of the game: state lawmakers approved his idea for the golf license plate program that generates thousands of dollars each year, some of which is donated to junior golf programs in the state, according to DeLucca.
For his contributions to youth golf programs, the elder DeLucca received the Keith Tribble Community Service Excellence Award in 2018 from the Orange Bowl Committee.
Orange Bowl President and Chairman Sean Pittman called DeLucca’s contributions — to junior golf as well as to the lives of kids with challenges — “legendary.”
“I was tremendously honored,” DeLucca told The Miami Laker at that time. “I didn’t expect it at all, and to compare myself to Keith Tribble, that’s an honor itself.”
Tribble was a chief executive officer of the Orange Bowl and former director of athletics at the University of Central Florida.
DeLucca was born in White Plains, N.Y. in 1941; his family moved to North Miami when he was 8 years-old, his son said.
After graduating from Miami Edison Senior High School and serving in the U.S. Navy, DeLucca moved to Miami Lakes, his son said.
DeLucca liked to say he bought the eighth house built in the residential community that was being built in the 1960s, and lived there until his death, his son said.
“He’s a Miami Lakes boy,” Charlie DeLucca III said. “He loved Miami Lakes.”
DeLucca married his first wife, Marilyn DeLucca, in the 1960s and they had two children, Charlie and Sandra DeLucca.
DeLucca said his father was the youngest golf pro at the Miami Lakes Country Club which became Shula’s Golf Club, and was hired by William A. Graham, then president of The Graham Companies who was developing the new town.
Stuart S. Wyllie, president and chief executive officer for The Graham Companies, said Charlie Delucca II and his son have had a long relationship with the Graham family.
“Charlie was our first golf pro when we opened the golf course in 1962, and liked to remind me that the first clubhouse was the back of his station wagon,” Wyllie said. “A longtime Miami Lakes resident, it is hard to overstate his impact on junior golf in South Florida. His priority and passion was always the kids. He will be missed.”
DeLucca was manager and operator of International Links Miami - Melreese Golf Course from 2004 until his death, his son said.
There, he started the nonprofit First Tee Miami program for children, including those with disabilities, to learn how to play the game. And through the game, they learned life skills like manners and integrity that comes from calling errors on oneself. Children are also tutored in college preparatory classes.
DeLucca’s son and Carlos Rodriguez, his assistant manager, as well as golf pros, teachers and an administrative staff helped him run the programs at Melreese. The Sandra DeLucca Development Center was named for his late daughter.
In 2018, The First Tee Miami sent a golf team to compete in the Special Olympics in Seattle, Wash, Adine Sadie, assistant program coordinator for the center, told The Miami Laker at that time.
DeLucca said the programs, that cost about $1 million a year to run, have been successful.
“We have a 100 percent graduation rate for high school and college kids in our programs,” he said.
DeLucca is survived by his son and wife, Modesta DeLucca, and daughters Carrie Stern, Tina DeLucca and Merrily Fuller. He also had 10 grandchildren.