By BRAD KING
It is not the history, the storied tournament venues, the enormous prize money nor even the numerous, immensely popular players.
No, the heart and soul of the PGA Tour is its record-setting philanthropic legacy.
In January, the Tour announced that it has surpassed $2 billion in all-time charitable giving. The Tour achieved its latest milestone just eight years and about 100 tournaments after announcing its first billion was reached in October 2005 – and 67 years after the Tour’s first $10,000 donation was recorded at the 1938 Palm Beach Invitational.
“This ($2 billion) is a threshold that we are simply passing as we continue to strive to increase the PGA Tour’s charitable impact in 2014 and beyond,” said PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.
Most PGA Tour events are structured as non-profit organizations designed to donate all its proceeds to charity. Community beneficiaries include a wide variety of organizations including hospitals, youth developmental agencies, growth-of-the-game programs and food banks.
Locally, of course, Greensboro’s Wyndham Championship has been making charitable contributions around the Piedmont Triad since 1938.
The Wyndham celebrated its 75th anniversary this year and attracts more than 80,000 spectators each year, offering complimentary admission to active military personnel and their family.
In addition, the Sedgefield Country Club event provides a platform for sponsor Wyndham Worldwide to connect with its customers; at the same time it expands the reach and presence of Wishes by Wyndham and supports many local charitable organizations.
“Philanthropy is one of the core values at Wyndham Worldwide, and we feel strongly that it is our responsibility to do what we can to help others around the world,” said Stephen P. Holmes, chairman and chief executive officer of Wyndham Worldwide.
“Millions of dollars have been raised (at the Wyndham Championship) to help a variety of causes,” Finchem said. “But to mention just one, in the last five years (the Piedmont Triad) has become one of the top five or six First Tee programs in the country. Hundreds and hundreds of kids are going through the program, and now there are many ancillary programs. It has really taken off quite nicely.”
Of course, along with all charitable contributions the PGA Tour makes directly, there are also numerous other, Tour-related philanthropic organizations.
That’s why David Feherty arrived at Winston-Salem’s revered Old Town Club on Friday morning of the Wyndham Championship riding shotgun in a military Humvee.
In 2005, the CBS golf announcer was part of a Thanksgiving goodwill tour to Iraq and returned with a new mission, determined to do something to improve the lives of those he calls “American heroes.”
With his friend Rick Kell, Feherty founded the Troops First Foundation, which, among other good deeds, works with service members who have been wounded while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Losing a limb, or the ability to use a limb, is one thing,” Feherty says. “But the dignity they lose with it is perhaps even more important. And to be able to give them some of that dignity back is my mission these days. It’s not charity. It’s just us trying to pay back a very small part of the check that we owe them.”
When Feherty emerged from the Humvee wearing a military helmet to the delight of a large crowd of golf outing participants in front of the Old Town clubhouse, he was “attacked” by Axe, the retired US Army Service dog handled by Chris Corbin, a double amputee, Green Beret.
Corbin and his service dog were sweeping a minefield when Axe alerted to a possible mine but Chris stepped on it simultaneously.
“These people come back having seen and done things they can’t even talk about,” Feherty told the crowd. “I am a keen student of American history. (America) has only been around 237 years. If you look at the people we’re fighting – they’ve been around 10,000 years. Take a look at where they are in the world and where we are.
“We are the greatest force for good in the world and there are four reasons why this country is great: soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. That’s why we are here today, to make their lives better.”
One of the golf participants at Old Town was Cpl. Chad Pfeifer, who lost his left leg in Iraq in 2007 to an improvised explosive device (IED). Less than a year after his injury the 32-year-old took up golf, and today he is a plus-3 handicap player with an eye on the PGA Tour.
Pfeifer was a featured participant during the recent American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, and he is preparing to begin training with famed instructor Butch Harmon.
“I love golf but I never take it too seriously,” Pfeiffer said. “I am lucky to be alive and I count my blessings to be able to even play golf. I know where I could be right now. Maybe I can be an inspiration to others, as others have been to me. You see guys who are quad amputees with burns all over their bodies; it’s amazing to see the lives they’re living. It’s an inspiration to me. I hope I can be that for other guys.”
During an outdoor evening soiree later that night on the range at Old Town, the club presented a check to Feherty’s Troops First Foundation in the amount of $126,075. In addition, Sen. Richard Burr quietly presented a personal check to Troops First Foundation for $10,000.
“The Troops First Foundation celebrates and supports those that have given so much time defending our freedoms and protecting our independence,” said tournament fundraiser organizer Chris Dunn of Winston-Salem. “While the ultimate goal was to raise funds to support the wonderful initiatives, it was also an opportunity to say ‘thank you’ and create new friendships that will hopefully last a long time.”