Payne Stewart was more than just a championship-winning golfer; he was a dedicated TFA dad, devoted and loving husband, and a man growing in his faith. The first thing Payne Stewart did after holing the winning putt in the U.S. Open in 1999 was to thank God for giving him the inner peace and self-confidence to pull off the major victory. In total, Payne won eleven PGA Tour events, including three major championships in his career, the last of which occurred a few months before he died at the age of 42.”I believe God has a plan for everyone,” Tracey Stewart told “Today” show anchor Matt Lauer in an interview in June of 2000. For her husband, God’s plan was to call him home at the age of 42, weeks after his career soared with his second U.S. Open victory, and at a time when he was nurturing his relationship with his wife and children, Chelsea, 14, and Aaron, 11. Payne Stewart often commented that his religious growth came by osmosis through his children’s experience at The First Academy. He often wore a simple, woven bracelet, a gift from son his son Aaron, with the letters “WWJD” – “What Would Jesus Do?”

Prior to Payne’s passing, the Stewarts earmarked a magnanimous gift for the First Academy’s expanding athletic facilities – specifically for a planned softball field. At the time, his daughter Chelsea was a first baseman for our varsity softball team as only a seventh-grade student. Not only did Payne give, but he invited several other TFA parents to a barbecue in his home to privately announce his and Tracey’s intention and urge them to join in their generosity. That night, the group collectively pledged another $700,000, expanding his act of generosity to $1.2 million. Because of the generosity of this group of parents, along with that of the Stewart Family Foundation, students today have the privilege of training and playing at our world-class Payne Stewart Athletic Complex.

When asked about his family’s decision to give so generously, Payne was quoted saying –

“Tracey, our kids, and I have more than we deserve. That’s just the way it is, so it’s not that hard to give something back. We decided we wanted to give where it would make an impact, mostly in the lives of children. It excites me almost as much as winning a golf tournament to impact people and see their faces.”

That is exactly what Payne Stewart and his family have done for The First Academy. Their gift, as well as their ability to link arms with others who could give generously, has impacted students at TFA for nearly 20 years. Payne’s legacy at TFA is not about grass on a football field or dugouts at the softball field, his legacy lives on in the many student-athletes who have gone on to play at the highest level. It lives on in the coaches who gather their teams in prayer before athletic contests within the facility. It lives on in the values of sportsmanship, leadership, perseverance, and discipline that our student-athletes exhibit. Payne and Tracy were Gospel Patrons – they invested in a way that would allow more students and families to hear the Good News talked about in John 3:16 and 3 John 4.

The Royal Nation is forever grateful to the Stewart family and to all of those who have given to make a vision a reality over the past thirty years. To learn more about the Royal Nation Fund, visit HERE.