Golfing for a Cause Is a Hole in One

Brad Faxon presided over a reunion of sorts in the parking lot behind The Rhode Island Country Club — the place where he first picked up a set up golf clubs more than four decades ago.

Faxon was welcoming golfers and their families who gathered on a Monday morning in June from all over the country for the CVS Caremark Charity Classic. Billy Andrade, Faxon’s childhood friend and co-host for the event, was across the lot kicking off his own annual homecoming.

They met at the clubhouse in 1975 when Andrade was 11. Faxon was 14 and  already a golf phenom. The friendship would continue through college and into their professional careers. And 15 years ago they helped launch a tournament that has generated a total of more than $17 million for nearly two dozen charities in Rhode Island.

“The monies all stay in Rhode Island and they go to all different charities. It’s not just for children, it’s not just for women, it’s not just for the hospitals, or boys and girls club — it’s almost every charity you’ve heard of in Rhode Island,” Faxon said.

Faxon offered this nugget you might not know about golf as a professional sport.

“We do something that’s neat: Every year the PGA Tour gives more money away to charity than the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL combined, so we kill ‘em.”

The three-day event is a combination of great golf, nearly 1,000 volunteers and a  lead sponsorship by CVS Caremark with support from the company’s suppliers. Plus the Rhode Island Country Club’s willingness to provide the course. And it takes each element to make it work every year.

CVS Caremark’s CEO Larry Merlo was one of the first to arrive at the club that Monday. “A lot of people talk about the fact that it’s Rhode Island’s premier sporting event. I think it’s Rhode Island’s premier philanthropic event.’’

The tournament began in 1999 as a successor to another charity tournament Andrade and Faxon ran for the better part of a decade. Faxon says the CVS Caremark Charity Classic is modeled after a tournament in Oregon in which former CVS CEO Tom Ryan played.

This year Faxon played with Erik Compton, who the weekend before was the runner-up at the U.S. Open Championship at Pinehurst. Compton gained national attention because of his two successful heart transplants.

At the Charity Classic, each golfer is paired with a specific charity for the ‘closest to the pin’ competition within the tournament. In Andrade’s case, his brother Jack has special needs so Special Olympics and the Meeting Street School have been the motivation when he plays. Compton had the American Heart Association.

Billy Andrade said it’s gratifying that the charity classic is a model for the golfers who come here. “That’s what makes me feel good as a player to see all the young players who have foundations and have started charitable tournaments and are giving back to where they grew up. ‘Wow! Look at what Billy and Brad have done up in Rhode Island. That’s pretty cool. I’m going to do that.'”

Faxon and Andrade both credit Merlo for keeping the tournament going when he succeeded Tom Ryan as CEO of CVS Caremark in 2011.

“To have Larry Merlo come in two years ago, it would have been very easy for him as new CEO of CVS to say, ‘You know what? It’s run its course. It’s done well.’ Instead, he’s got energy and he’s going to help revitalize. It takes a special person to want to do that, because it’s not easy and it’s easy for somebody in the media to say you could be spending your money other ways. I just think there’s a huge economic impact here for everybody.”

Merlo said it’s the unique partnership that makes it work. “At the heart of the charity classic is what it does for the community. We have now raised more than $17 million over the past 16 years and are looking forward to adding to that total based on this year’s success. I think it just speaks volumes to the work that everybody does to make it a success.”

Merlo, who is an avid golfer, says watching some of the best in the world up close is a revelation.

Merlo says they’ll announce just how much the 2014 tournament added to the charity total later this year. “We have a celebration in our office in December, where the charities come. Brad and Billy join us and we give out the checks. And it’s an opportunity for the organizations to talk a little bit about what they’re doing and their accomplishments. At the same time you have the people running these organizations thanking us and talking about the fact this check represents 30, 40 as much as 50 percent of their operational budget for the year.”

Merlo added that he is optimistic about the tournament’s future. “I think it’s a unique partnership between all of those folks and as long as that partnership stays together, I think we can look forward to the charity classic being here for many years.”

If you want to see the video version of this story go to www.RhodeIslandSpotlight.com If you know of a person or organization who you think deserves the Spotlight, send an email to jim@RhodeIslandSpotlight.org

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