Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Palmer, Nicklaus, Player raise record $15.1million for charity

They were once known collectively as "The Big Three." Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player individually remain big draws. Together they're a mesmerising trio on a golf course.
They combined earlier this week to raise just over $15.1 million at an event titled the "Big Three for Mountain Mission Kids." It was the single biggest fund-raising day in US PGA Tour history and the first public event at the Olde Farm Club in Virginia.
The previous mark was estimated to be about $8.5 million by PGA Tour officials. Organizers had hoped to raise at least $12 million for the Mountain Mission School, an 89-year-old school for needy children.
Nicklaus said the three of them had raised money all over the world, but he had never seen a group as philanthropic as this once.
"To be here today to set an all-time record is very, very special," Nicklaus said.
The fund-raising continued to the very end. As soon as the 19-hole scramble was over, someone paid $6,000 for the gloves worn by the group on the final hole.
"Americans are such tremendous givers," Player said.
And so were the golfers, playing to the crowd like a links version of the Rat Pack.
Player played MC and comedian, noting Palmer drove the ball so well in his heyday that Palmer only left the fairway to answer the telephone. Palmer called Player quite a talker, a man with deep pockets and short arms.
"Gary Player is so cheap he wouldn't give ducks a free drink if he owned Lake Okeechobee," Palmer said to laughs.
But Player's stories are priceless, recalling how he met Elvis Presley once and his critique of how new equipment is making golf courses obsolete. And when Player stops briefly, Nicklaus steps in with timing as slick as any straight man.
"I've heard them all 100 times," he said of Player's stories. "I just turn my hearing aid off."
But fans couldn't get enough.
Even Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt was in the gallery, getting an autograph from Player before introducing herself to Nicklaus. She followed the trio around this reclusive course tucked away atop the mountains near the Virginia-Tennessee border even as people asked her for her own autograph.
All three golfers are members at The Olde Farm, an exclusive club carved out of farmland off a quiet country road back in 2000. Privacy and escape are the biggest assets for members like four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, the Mannings -- Archie and sons Peyton and Eli, South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier and baseball Hall of Famer George Brett.
That membership helped this high-dollar fund-raiser dream big to endow the Mountain Mission School in nearby Grundy, Virginia. Founded in 1921, the school is funded only by donations and teaches nearly 300 needy children from as young as 18 months to as old as 20.
The event also featured a silent auction that included NFL jerseys from each of the Mannings in a single display case, a bat signed by Brett, spa getaways, signed footballs from Spurrier and new Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, Johnson's signed driving gloves from his 2009 title season, a VIP package at a Virginia Tech football game, tickets to Alabama-Tennessee football in October and a signed basketball from Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari.
Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer and former Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga also came out for the event.
But the biggest attraction? The three golfing legends miked up so fans could hear each quip on free radios handed out at the entrance.
Fans cheered every shot down the middle of the fairway and surged toward Palmer, Nicklaus and Player for autographs and photos between shots even as carts helped Palmer, 80, and Nicklaus, 70, around the course. Player, 74, signed as he walked.



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