PGA Tour charity donations to hit $1 billion

Updated: October 30, 2005, 7:24 PM ET
Associated Press

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- The PGA Tour hits a milestone this week that commissioner Tim Finchem believes is as noteworthy as Byron Nelson winning 11 in a row or Tiger Woods holding all the major trophies at the same time.

Charitable giving in golf is at the $1 billion mark.

"This week's tournaments will put us over the top," Finchem said, noting that the final dollars will come from Charles Schwab Cup Championship on the Champions Tour, played three hours behind in Sonoma, Calif.

It all started with a $10,000 donation from the 1938 Palm Beach Invitational. It accelerated a decade ago when the tour put a strong emphasis on charity for events on the PGA Tour, Champions Tour and Nationwide Tour.

A campaign called "Drive to a Billion" began in February at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am with typical pomp. Players or dignitaries have hit a commemorative tee shot at every PGA Tour event, using a driver made in 1938 that served as the torch for the campaign.

During the pro-am round Wednesday at the Chrysler Championship, all players were asked to hit the persimmons driver on the first tee, then their titanium club to count for their score. Davis Love III nailed the wooden club, but still hit his modern driver some 40 yards longer.

Charity also has made great gains.

The tour hit the $100 million mark in 1987, and it went over $500 million in 1999. Donations gained so much momentum this year that the $1 billion milestone was at least four months ahead of schedule.

Finchem first thought it would be crossed at the 2006 Byron Nelson Championship, an appropriate time because that tournament -- run by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas -- annually generates the most for charity. It went over the $6 million mark for the fourth straight year.

When the "Drive to a Billion" campaign began in February, the tour thought it would reach $1 billion early next year, perhaps at the FBR Open in Phoenix. The latest projections showed it would be this week.

"It's pretty special," Finchem said. "It's nice to celebrate a milestone like this. If more people and more companies really understand what's happening, that can help you grow. This is part of our mission. It's part of our culture."

Individual tournaments are responsible for raising money for charity. The tour simply provided the structure.

Most tournaments are set up as charitable organizations that direct their proceeds to primarily local needs. The Chrysler Championship, for example, channels most of its money to Academy Prep, a middle school for low-income families.

Next up for the PGA Tour is the $2 billion mark, although it probably won't take another 67 years. PGA Tour events donated about $95 million this year alone, and officials believe they can get the next $1 billion in 10 years.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press