E.A. Sports Today

Charity is King Classic’s middle name

Raising money for local charities is the goal every year; this year’s big check could challenge the record

Volunteers man stations at various locations on the SKCC courses to “earn” a share of the tournament’s charitable contribution for their organizations. On the cover, the tournament committee displays the big check from last year’s Classic. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This isn’t quite like ‘Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus,’ but in the run-up to the Sunny King Charity Classic it is a story worth repeating. This story was one of the first ever published by East Alabama Sports Today in 2014 and is being reprinted with updated information.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The most satisfying moment of the tenure of any Sunny King Charity Classic chairman comes late Sunday when he displays the oversized check to the crowd that depicts the money raised that year for the event’s charities.

And for the past several years that has been a very big check – six figures big.

In its 39 years of existence the Classic has raised more than $2.7 million for the various charities it benefits, funds those groups say go a long way toward supporting their missions. In recent years the goal has been to raise at least $100,000 and the tournament has done that in 12 of the last 13 years, missing the mark only in 2014 when the field slipped to 190 teams after a slight increase in entry fees.

Still, in those 13 years the event raised more than $1.5 million.

“That’s the reason we all do this,” tournament co-chairman Jimmy Flowers said in 2014. “That’s why we spend all the time and effort we do on it every year. The charity, that’s what people need to think about when they think about this tournament.

“For every member of this committee it’s important we raise as much money as we can and give away as much as we can.”

They will be out to do it again this year when the 2018 edition of the three-day event tees off Friday with a field of 200 teams at Anniston Country Club, Cider Ridge Golf Club and Silver Lakes.

The event raised $115,000 last year for more than 35 local charities. Tournament officials anticipate a “good number” this year, perhaps even pushing the final number on the big check past the record $135,000 raised in 2008.

Just how huge is the charitable aspect of tournament golf? The PGA Tour made a big deal a couple years ago when it surpassed the $2 billion mark in charitable giving from its events. With the abundance of fundraising tournaments offered by churches, civic and private organizations in Calhoun County, is it beyond the realm of possibility to think the game regularly collectively raises nearly $1 million for local causes each year?

“I think what gets lost in all the competition and everything else is the fact what we’re really out here to do is raise money for charity,” Patrick Cushman said back in 2007, his year as tournament chairman. “Any time you can outdo what you’ve done in the past and contribute to the community, it’s hard not to feel great about that.”

The initial aim for the tournament – a one-day event then called the Sam Byrd Invitational – was to raise money for the lights for the city’s Christmas tree. Today, it’s one of the largest fund-raising tournaments in the Southeast and benefits more than 30 charities every year.

Longtime former committee member and chairman Franz Cobb remembers that first check being for approximately $1,500 but he more vividly recalls the looks on people’s faces as the crew brought the Christmas tree down Quintard Avenue on Doug Williams’ truck. In 2008, the tournament distributed more than $135,000 to its charities – still the single-year record.

“I remember when we hit 65 (thousand), 75, then 100,” Cobb said. “I thought, ‘My God, 100 thousand (dollars) from a golf tournament; that’s unreal.’

“(Former chairman) David Brown and I couldn’t imagine we’d give away a million dollars in Anniston, Alabama. I think when we hit that million-dollar mark it put a different perspective on everything. If we made a million after 18 years what can we do for the next 10 years?”

The tournament surpassed $1.5 million in total charitable giving in 2006 and jumped the $2 million barrier in 2010.

Of course, the groups receiving the funding do something for it, volunteering in various capacities at the three tournament venues.

Representatives of the YMCA Blue Dolphins swim program man the registration desk, selling players the mulligans and sandies that boost the charitable total, at Anniston Country Club. Second Chance staffs the beverage station near the 13th green at Cider Ridge. Other groups monitor the par-3s for the hole-in-one prizes.

This year, organizers are bringing the participants of the local First Tee program to Anniston Country Club to give them a feel for the tournament atmosphere. They may be holding the pin on the 16th green or helping on the driving range.

It’s a win-win for all involved. The tournament gets an influx of volunteers and the non-profits get to interact with and educate the golfers on the merits of their organization while picking up some much-needed – and much appreciated – funding.

The swimmers have been associated with the Classic for more than a decade. Second Chance has been a part of it for more than 14 years. Both groups received about $2,000 last year, their representatives said.

“That is our biggest fundraiser every year; we couldn’t run our team without that,” said Brandy Sanders, the former Blue Dolphins coach. “It helps with the pool – it’s so much to keep it operating – and we travel to about 12 out-of-town meets every year … so we wouldn’t be able to go to those meets without having that money.”

“The big thing for us is being able to talk to that many people — in particular that many men — about domestic and sexual violence and the services we provide to its victims,” Second Chance executive director Susan Shipman said. “The money is important to us, of course, because it’s unrestricted dollars we can use for whatever purposes we see fit. We’re grateful to have that and the exposure as well.”

GIVING ‘TIL IT HELPS

Here is an accounting of charitable funds the Sunny King Charity Classic has raised in recent years:

2005 $101,000
2006 $110,000
2007 $120,000
2008 $135,000
2009 $130,000
2010 $110,000
2011 $120,000
2012 $105,000
2013 $100,000
2014 $92,000
2015 $102,000
2016 $107,000
2017 $115,000

Source: SKCC officials and live accounts

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