Great community support makes Walmart Invitational a success

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

I am sooooo glad I live in Brunswick County. This is an awesome place. The wide beaches face south. There are quiet rivers and rushing inlets and dolphins in the Intracoastal Waterway. Because the climate is temperate, we play golf on more than 100 Grand Strand courses 12 months a year.

The people of the Carolina Coast are friendly. They politely wave you through an intersection instead of stepping on the gas and playing chicken with you. Since moving here, I have not had anyone give me a dignitary salute when I make a clueless move with my car.

Seafood lovers are in hog heaven here. The succulent Calabash-fried shrimp we eat at night swam in the ocean the day before.

The best part of living here is the fabulous generosity of the residents. Shopkeepers, golfers, businessmen and women, retired schoolteachers—everyone supports a cause. Volunteers work hand-in-hand with our public school teachers each day. Churches are building new sanctuaries all over the county and providing outreach programs for the community.

With all our courses and causes, there are so many charity golf events in Brunswick County each year I cannot write about them all.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised each year to fight hunger, teach adults how to read, combat diseases and poverty, to provide shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry and to give kids a better chance at life.

I saw this scenario played out Tuesday at the second annual Walmart Invitational at Thistle Golf Club for the benefit of The First Tee of Brunswick County. The whole day was nothing short of miraculous. Here’s what happened:

1. The weatherman forecast awful weather that day, and in the morning the radar map was littered with green and orange thunderstorms.

During the tournament, although we heard rumbles and saw threatening clouds in the distance, the sun kept peeking out and the blue skies hovered overhead. It rained in Bolivia and hailed in Whiteville, but the participants in Calabash finished 18 holes without taking out their umbrellas or rain suits.

Around noon, one gentleman looked toward the horizon, where black clouds roiled in the distance. He pointed up at the blue skies overhead and said, “God must love The First Tee.”

Amen to that, brother.

2. The community support was amazing. Walmart was the headline sponsor, but individuals and small business owners provided raffle prizes and door prizes, food and gift certificates. They sponsored holes and whole teams of players. A whole host of volunteers registered players, sold raffle tickets, helped with the putting contest and took pictures.

At the end of the day, The First Tee had cleared $50,000, just a tad better than last year. Considering the economy, this was another miracle.

3. Before the event, chairman Walt Stachura and his committee worked hard to make it happen. They had refined and embellished last year’s event and everything was as smooth as glass.

Ten days earlier, Walt had been in California caddying for Dalton Gore at the Walmart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach. How this retired human dynamo does it all is another miracle. He coaches First Tee Eagle Level kids each week (Dalton is one of his protégés). He chaired the Walmart Invitational this year, and he serves on the board of directors of The First Tee as co-chairman of programming. And Walt does it all with a smile and more energy than a 20-year-old.

4. Nick Bradley, coach to PGA Tour players like Justin Rose, conducted a clinic before the start of the tournament. It was a quick lesson that gave us all some great tips on our swing. He said most amateur golfers, particularly women, hold the club too deep in the palm of the left hand rather than gripping it with our fingers.

I tried it on the first two holes I played that day and birdied them both: No. 9 of the McKay Course and No. 1 of the Cameron Course. Since it was a shamble format, it was my drive the team used on each of those holes. Unfortunately, the miracle birdies did not continue and my team did not place, but we had a terrific time anyway.

5. Thistle Golf Club is another miracle. When Gene Weldon, the PGA golf professional at Thistle Golf Course, approached Rusty Mackey, the owner, about hosting a fundraising event for The First Tee, he agreed immediately on one condition.

“When I told Mr. Mackey all about The First Tee and what it does for kids,” Weldon said, “he immediately agreed to do it on one condition: it had to be an annual event. I was floored, but Mr. Mackey said since it was for the kids of Brunswick County, he wanted to do it each year.”

6. The sixth and best miracle of the day happened when I sat and chatted with Richard Heysek, director of corporate relations of the World Golf Foundation. Richard had come up from St. Augustine, Fla., to play in the Walmart Invitational. The World Golf Foundation is the Parent Organization of The First Tee worldwide.

Richard praised our chapter and said it is ranked No. 2 in the United States.

“Is that true?” I asked in amazement. “But there are other, larger chapters!”

“Yes, there are,” Richard said. “But you’ve got it all together here. You have a couple of visionaries in your founders, Rusty and Carol Petrea. You have your own facility and most of the courses in Brunswick County are affiliated with you in some way. You have several hundred kids in regular programming, and several thousand more in the National Schools Program, which is conducted in all the elementary schools here. You have a stable board of directors and lots of trained coaches and volunteers. Your fundraising efforts are effective. Just look around you,” he said as he smiled.

I did. Lines of people were buying raffle tickets. Smiling golfers were eating lunch and comparing scores. Our new video had played earlier and received a standing ovation.

Because of the people of Brunswick County, the First Tee can continue to change the lives of kids by teaching both core values and golf.

That was the most important miracle of the day.


Remarks you can make on the course to ensure your opponent has a bad round.

1. If you took a bigger swing, you could go so much farther on your drive.

2. I just checked my Blackberry. The market’s down 100 points.

3. You really do keep your left arm straight. It’s amazing.

4. Just to remind you, there’s an out-of-bounds on your left. Don’t go there.

5. Do you always loop the club at the top of your backswing?

Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net.