The Ultimate Gimme: Indian Country Knows How to Throw a Charity Tournament
For some it’s a passion, perhaps even an obsession. For others, it’s the glue for enduring friendships. For still others, it’s a great excuse to have an up-close-and-personal relationship with trees, sand and water.
In Indian Country, golf has also proven to be a great revenue generator for tribes. And in keeping with the Native spirit of community, of sharing, of giving back, Indian Country golf is also frequently associated with Native-hosted, non-profit tournaments raising funds for charities and specific projects.
These tournaments nurture the community, raising awareness and spirits along with some cash. There are countless such events throughout Indian Country, but here is a shout-out to a few that stand apart for the good work they do:
One the biggest is the Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge, based at the Atunyote Golf Club at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York, home of the Oneida Nation. There are several reasons this annual event is so popular, including the course and many the top golfers who play, like Begay, a four-time PGA Tour winner and his old college roommate, Tiger Woods, along with other familiar names, such as Rickie Fowler, Vijay Singh, Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam.
Atunyote (Oneida for ‘eagle’) is the longest of Turning Stone’s three championship courses at 7,315 yards. The site of this year’s PGA Professional National Championships, it features vast stretches of open space, rolling hills, several lakes and a stream with waterfalls. While Atunyote is the headliner, the Shenendoah and Kaluhyat courses are also treats for casual players or the obsessed.
According to Golf- NewYork.com: “When the Oneida Nation decided to add golf to Turning Stone Resort and Casino, it didn’t enter the golf world timidly—it jumped into the deep end and produced a big splash. No cutting corners, no sparing costs, and the result is a trio of big-league courses.”
While the course and contestants are big draws, the biggest draw is the goal of funding athletic, health and wellness programs for Native youth. (The tournament has raised over $4 million in just seven years.)
AMERIND Risk’s annual Protecting Tribal Families Tournament in New Mexico’s Santa Ana Pueblo assists non-insured Native families struggling after the loss of their home or some other catastrophic event, with a portion of the proceeds also benefiting the American Indian Graduate Center.
Played this year at Twin Warriors Golf Club, one of the tribe’s three courses, the four-person scramble event raised some $14,000, adding to the $100,000 raised by the event since it began in 2004. “It’s a great fit for us because all proceeds of this tournament go to protect tribal families,” says Nancy Harjo Serna, AMERIND director of marketing, who notes that the NB3 Foundation and NICWA, the National Indian Child Welfare Association, also benefit.
The 2016 event sold out early with a full field of 140 golfers from all over North America, ranging from tribal leaders to golf pros like Notah Begay III. Also on hand was the 2015 reigning Miss Indian World, Cheyenne Brady, and Pueblo Governor Myron Armijo.
“The tournament was a tremendous success,” says PGA pro Derrick Gutierrez, who runs the site, which was rated by Golf Digest as one of the top 100 public golf courses in the U.S.
The Twin Warriors track opened in 1991 as a championship high desert course that is routed around ancient cultural sites. Its grassy knolls and ridges are dotted with juniper and pinon pine intermingled with dry arroyos and eroded land features like the sacred butte known as Snakehead (Tuyuna) —all framed by the Sandia Mountains.
Southern Nevada Paiute country, just a few minutes away from the famed Las Vegas Strip, offers a trio of championship courses sculpted by famed course architect Pete Dye.
The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development hosts its annual RES Tournament here. Prior to the official kickoff of the National Reservation Economic Summit, NCAIED hosts the tourney to help raise money for scholarships for deserving Native American business students. Scholarships are awarded at the Indian Progress in Business (INPRO) Gala held every fall.
Crystal Merrick is the tribe’s director of tournaments and says, “It’s always a bit crazy, but a lot of fun and always a sold-out full flight of 144. Being an Indian-owned facility, we host a lot of well-known tribal representatives and they are always complimentary of how the course plays.
“NCAIED golfers used the Sun Mountain course this year and are booked there for next year” Merrick says. “Because this is such a popular tournament, we had to turn back some walk-ons this time, so please register early for next year.”
Benny Tso, Chairman of the Las Vegas Pauite Tribe, played in the NCAIED event this year after blessing the 9 a.m. tee time with a welcoming prayer, and his foursome finished five under par. “This is a fun tournament for a good cause and a great opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones,” he said.
It is supported by the Ak-Chin Indian Community; Gila River Indian Community; National Indian Gaming Association, the NBA Phoenix Suns, the WNBA Phoenix Mercury and Nike N7.
The event supports Phoenix-based Native youth non-profit organizations that depend on donations — 100% of all proceeds go to benefit the foundation.
Golf magazine and Golfweek ranked Southern Dunes as the 5th ‘Best You Can Play’ course in Arizona.
Sprawled across more than 300 acres, the course is an annual qualifying site for the U.S. Open (and sometimes the PGA Tour Qualifier). The course is impeccably maintained, and the service and amenities are superb.
The course, built in 2002 with the help of golf legend Fred Couples, is spread over nearly twice the acreage of a typical golf course, and has transformed the typically flat desert terrain into some magnificent landscape.
“This year’s tournament, our third, was awesome,” says NABI co-founder GinaMarie Scarpa. This year 132 golfers showed up and helped raise $20,000.
“I’m OK with that, a happy camper, but next year this will be a premier golf tournament with people clamoring to enter. Next year, I want a full flight of 36 foursomes and we’re shooting for a fundraising goal of $50,000.”
UNITY (United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc.) is a 40-year-old national nonprofit based in Mesa, Arizona.
It is the largest Native youth leadership network organization in the country, and it raises funds to support youth development. UNITY was recognized as 2015 NonProfit of the Year by the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Arizona for its work with Native youth throughout the country. Among their regular projects is the annual UNITY Golf Classic held this year at Whirlwind Golf Club, an enterprise of the Gila River Indian Community, and planned next year for the Fort McDowell Yavapai We-ko-pa Golf Club course in Scottsdale.
UNITY Executive Director Mary Kim Titla, who now coordinates 160 youth councils in 36 states, got things started in the late 1990s when she used her celebrity status as a TV reporter to rally fundraising support for youth programs. “In its heyday before the economy went sour, we raised as much as $100,000 a tournament,” she says. “We discontinued things for awhile, but decided to revise the effort three years ago.”
“Besides the fun on the course and some great networking, UNITY features a large silent auction of donated items including art, jewelry, trips, and lots of rounds of golf,” says Red Note’s Jason Coochwytewa. “Some folks play in the tournament just to get to bid on the auction items!”
Gaming and golfing are boon companions for NIGA and AIGA, the National Indian and Arizona Indian Gaming Associations that hold annual tournaments. NIGA recently hosted its 30th annual competition in San Diego at Barona Creek. “We come here in the spirit of sovereignty to have a good time with Barona and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation graciously hosting — with monies raised going toward scholarships,” says NIGA Chairman Ernest Stevens.
Barona Creek has been labeled one of the Top 5 Casino Courses in the Country by Golf Digest, and one of California’s top courses.
There are many Native-involved charity golf events specific to a tribe or a geographical region, far too many to list, buthere are a few notable examples:
The Phoenix AISES (American In dian Science and Engineering Society) golf tournament (September) at Ocotillo Golf Resort in Chandler, Arizona puts its proceeds toward scholarships and leadership programs benefiting Native college students in Arizona pursuing STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Since 2002, the annual fundraiser has raised more than $70,000.
The Construction in Indian Country Student Endowment Golf Tournament at Wild Horse Pass Resort in Phoenix is sponsored by Arizona State University School of Engineering and Sundt Engineering. This was the 13th year of raising scholarship proceeds for American Indian Students majoring in Construction Management. To date, $500,000 has been raised.
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