Golfing for good

Ethan Davidson estimates that he was only 5 or 6 when he heard the comparisons to Tiger Woods. 

“I was shocked,” he said. “I didn’t know I’d be that good, and I didn’t know I could pursue [golf] because I didn’t know I was that good. I thought I was just the average player.”

He’s 12 now, and the comparisons continue. Like Woods, Ethan excelled early and won often, his trophies no longer fitting the space in his Woodland Hills bedroom, where his medals hang from the curtain rod. His mother, Arlene, promised a bookshelf as a gift following his Aug. 24 bar mitzvah at Temple Judea in Tarzana to help add display space.

But while Woods waited until he was about 21 to start giving back by starting the Tiger Woods Foundation, Ethan is doing it now. As part of his mitzvah project, he is mentoring kids through the Ventura County Golf & Life Skills program, and he held a May fundraiser that netted $9,000 for underprivileged would-be golfers.

Together, these community and philanthropic efforts helped Ethan earn the Peggy Kirk Bell Award from U.S. Kids Golf. Bell, now 91, is known for teaching and advocating women’s golf.

“He’s been given a gift, but his ability to share it with the less fortunate makes me even more proud,” Ethan’s mother said.

His father, Gary, played golf collegiately at Santa Barbara City College. Ethan first picked up a set of plastic clubs his dad got him when he was 18 months old, and Arlene said she was shocked at what she saw.

“Most kids can’t make contact with the ball, and he was hitting and he was loving it,” she said. “And he hasn’t stopped.”

By the time he was 3, Arlene knew her son was hooked, so he started lessons at Braemar Country Club in Tarzana. At 5 1/2, a Braemar pro told her that Ethan was too good and should start playing in tournaments.

The victories have piled up, mostly in the last two years. He won the U.S. Kids Golf Los Angeles spring tour, which qualified him for the World Championship at Pinehurst, N.C., in August.

When the time came to pick a mitzvah project, Ethan’s mother suggested he do something for City of Hope, as his sister, Morgan, had done in 2010.

Ethan Davidson at 18 months

“He said, ‘No. I want to do something with golf,’ ” Arlene recalled. 

It was Ethan’s coach who recommended Ventura County Golf & Life Skills’ Training on Wheels program, through which he mentors underprivileged junior golfers. 

It was during these weekly sessions beginning in April at River Ridge Golf Club in Oxnard that Ethan decided he wanted to sponsor a child. He selected Dylan Gruber of Port Hueneme because Ethan thought the little boy had potential, just as he had. Although Dylan didn’t need financial support, the two did develop a mentoring relationship.

Dylan, 7, also had a similar backstory in that his parents were regular golfers and took their only child with them. Dylan’s father, Mark, said they could tell at the driving range that the boy possessed something special, and Ethan’s support helps Dylan explore his gift.

“Ethan’s interest in Dylan inspired Dylan to be more interested in golf,” Mark said.

Ethan hopes to caddy for Dylan one day, though their schedules haven’t worked out yet.

But Ethan’s endeavors go beyond one child. He’s collected used clubs and golf bags for underserved youths, and in May he organized a 100-hole, daylong golf marathon that netted $9,000, which will fund the 2013-2014 golf programs for 150 kids at Ventura County Golf & Life Skills.

The project is a perfect reflection of Ethan’s passion. He said he devotes 25 to 30 hours a week to golf, helped by the putting green and chipping area in the front yard of the family’s home. He has progressed through the Golf Academy of Ventura County’s advanced player program for junior golfers, and his physical education classes at A.E. Wright Middle School in Calabasas this year are an independent study at Rustic Canyon Golf Course in Moorpark.

Besides his trophies and medals, Ethan’s room is filled with golf paraphernalia — everything from a signed caddy bib from 2010 PGA Rookie of the Year Rickie Fowler to a poster of Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament each spring. The family dog is named Mickelson (after golfer Phil Mickelson), and there’s a sign in his room that reads: “Eat. Sleep. Golf.” 

Ethan’s favorite part of golf — a sport in which he hopes to one day go pro — is driving. “You get to hit the ball as hard as you can,” he said of his 230-yard tee shots.

But his coach, PGA pro and Ventura County Golf & Life Skills President Dan Martin, is impressed with something else as well.

“Even though he is just 12 years old,” Martin wrote in a letter of recommendation, “Ethan knows the importance of giving back to the game of golf.”