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Charities benefit from birdies program

Money from Tampa Bay Classic's pledges goes back to charity.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001


If you can guess the number of birdies that will be made at the Tampa Bay Classic in two weeks, you could win a new Buick. To have that chance, you'll have to make a monetary pledge. And a tournament charity will benefit.

In nearly 25 years of staging a golf event in North Pinellas, Suncoast Golf Classic Inc. has directed nearly $12-million to local charities, with $200,000 raised from last year's event at the Westin Innisbrook Resort.

The tournament is taking the process a step farther with its Birdies for Charity program.

Any nonprofit organization can sign up and solicit pledges based on the number of birdies made during the Sept. 13-16 PGA Tour event on the Copperhead course. Last year, 1,206 birdies were made during the four rounds, meaning a penny pledge would bring $12.06. Each charity retains 100 percent of the pledge money.

"In a nutshell, it's like a walk-a-thon," tournament director Gerald Goodman said. "You guess the total number of birdies in the tournament and have a chance to win a car. You pledge a penny for each birdie. In turn, I will give 100 percent of the money I collect back to the charity.

"When you think about it, it might be one of the best fundraisers you could be a part of. It's not selling M&Ms where you have to give them half the money. We collect the money and you get all of it."

The tournament has five charities that share the proceeds of the event, with 100 percent of all ticket sales going to them: American Lung Association, the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, Junior Achievement, Rotary Clubs and Shriners Hospital for Children.

The Birdies for Charities Program is in addition to those proceeds, and any charity can benefit. It was the idea of Roger Larson, the tournament's general chairman, who saw that local charities at other PGA Tour events, including those in San Diego, San Antonio, Houston, Milwaukee and the Quad Cities, had raised over $5-million.

"I work for a nonprofit organization and it's our mission to raise money for local charities," Goodman said. "We saw this avenue that would raise money and we all bought in. We're all judged by how much we give away to charity. That's what it's ultimately about."

Making the program even better is a $100,000 TECO Energy Bonus Pool. Any charity that reaches a minimum of $2,400 in pledges is eligible for the bonus pool, which will be divided on a percentage basis.

So far, some 45 charities have signed up, according to Doug Laseter, who is running Birdies for Charity. Several already have qualified for the bonus pool.

"It's perfect for church groups, youth groups, school groups where you've got a lot of members," Laseter said. "Each member goes out and gets a few pledges and it can be a pretty significant amount. It's a great tool for the tournament to be able to go to any charity and say they can participate in the Tampa Bay Classic. Anybody can get involved. Yes, they have to do a little work. But the work they have to do compared to what the tournament is providing is nothing. It really gives us the opportunity to reward any hard-working charity out there."

Anne Kramer is sold. On a committee to raise funds for Tampa Crossroads, she heard about the program by reading about it in the newspaper. She signed up, got her 16 board members involved in soliciting pledges, and the group has qualified for the bonus pool.

"We were considering doing a golf tournament of our own when this came along," Kramer said. "We sort of thought about it and said, 'We can do better with Birdies for Charity.' A golf tournament is a tremendous amount of effort. This has been wonderfully easy. They collect the money and 100 percent of our effort is turned around with no real cash flow going out. We did this all word of mouth."

Although the tournament is only two weeks away, it's not too late. Pledges can be collected and submitted up until the morning of the first round.

"This is a project that could be done in less than a week's time," Goodman said. "Say you get 50 people to go get 10 pledges. That's 500 pledges. Say they're all a penny apiece. Say we get 1,200 birdies. That's $6,000. That could be done in one day."

Call (727) 789-2755.

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