By Mike Mazur
The PGA Tour isn’t the largest professional sports property, but it has few – if any – rivals when it comes to generating charitable contributions for the communities it visits.
Proceeds from the Tour’s events during the final weekend of October pushed the all-time level of charitable contributions past the $1 billion mark.
That milestone represented the culmination of a yearlong “Drive to a Billion” campaign that the Tour began in February. The Tour planned national print and television public-service announcements featuring prominent players thanking fans and Tour supporters.
To put in perspective the charitable donations generated through PGA Tour events, consider that the NBA, a much larger professional sports league, recently announced it will raise $100 million for charity over the next five years.
The Tour’s forecast? It anticipates raising another $1 billion in less than 10 years.
“The PGA Tour continues to follow the path that raises more money for charity than all other sports combined,” said Henry Hughes, the Tour’s senior vice president and chief of operations.
That path began with a $10,000 charitable donation at the 1938 Palm Beach Invitational. And while the transition to today’s model of event operations has been an “evolution rather than a conscious decision,” according to Hughes, the level of giving has rapidly accelerated in recent years.
Half of the $1 billion was contributed since 1999, and today nearly all Tour events are operated as independent, nonprofit organizations run by volunteers. All proceeds from these events, including tournaments on the Nationwide and Champions tours, are donated to local charities.
“It’s making a world of difference,” says Kent Skipper, executive director of Salesmanship Club Youth and Family Centers, the charitable beneficiary of the EDS Byron Nelson Championship in Dallas. “A huge portion of our operating budget comes directly from the tournament.”
Specifically, the Nelson raised $6.05 million for the SCYFC from the 2005 event, about 92 percent of the nonprofit corporation’s budget. The Nelson, along with the FBR Open, Valero Texas Open and AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, consistently are among the Tour’s largest charitable contributors.
The Nelson money will be used to fund existing programs for “at-risk” children and their families, as well as a new program for 2006, the Family Works Center, which will focus on prevention and early intervention.
The Tour is pursuing this charitable mission not just because it’s the right thing to do from a civic standpoint, but also because of the appealing platform it presents for attracting new corporate partners. That platform includes a public relations message that can’t lose, and also tax breaks for corporate entities that can demonstrate investment in a charitable operation run by volunteers.
“There’s clearly a tax benefit for those who invest in our game over other things they might spend money on,” Hughes said.
The benefits are being seen in markets large and small.
The John Deere Classic, played in Silvis, Ill., raised more than $3 million in 2005, which was distributed to more than 500 local and regional charities.
One of those organizations was the Arrowhead Ranch, a residential treatment facility for troubled adolescents, that annually receives between $5,000 to $10,000 from the Deere in exchange for the volunteer work of 70 or so young people.
“We pick up trash and put up the fences,” said Angela Moody, Arrowhead Ranch’s executive director. “But when they get out and meet people they may not have otherwise met and get involved in a sport they may not have had involvement in, it gives them another notch in their belt.
“They get accepted into a community. And that alone gives them such a good feeling about themselves.”