SANTA ANA PUEBLO – Could Tiger Woods and Nancy Lopez soon play in the same Albuquerque-area charity golf tournament?
“You bet,” says Albuquerque native and former PGA Tour star Notah Begay III.
And it could happen as soon as next year.
“It’s tough because of our date, and his back problems this year, but there’s no question that if Tiger has a chance to come here, he’ll be here,” Begay told the Journal on Monday following a news conference announcing the inaugural Rio Grande Charity Slam golf tournament. “Down the road, there isn’t any doubt in my mind, Tiger will be here for this,” he says of one of his best friends and former Stanford teammate.
“… And Nancy told me she was going to play this year, but she has to play in a tournament. But she says she will play next year for sure.”
As for this year, Begay has already lined up a number of celebrities for the June 27 event at Santa Ana Golf Club. He has commitments from former Masters champion Mike Weir, ex-University of New Mexico golfer and four-time PGA Tour winner Tim Herron and “we’re very close to lining up Johnny Miller,” one of golf’s all-time greatest players and the lead golf analyst for NBC Sports. Former Lobo and Chicago Bears all-pro linebacker Brian Urlacher and ex-Lobo and NBA player Kenny Thomas have also committed.
Begay, who is an analyst for the NBC-owned Golf Channel, says he hopes to add more celebrities for this year’s event, which is a fundraiser the Notah Begay III Foundation (NB3F) and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque (JCC).
The tournament is scheduled to be a scramble (golfers play the best shot in their group), and is open to the public. Entry fee is $1,500 per four-player team. The field is limited to 160 players.
The tournament is the brainchild of Begay and the JCC, the latter which held a local fundraising tournament for 14 years.
“We decided to close that tournament down and merge with Notah in a much bigger version,” said JCC board member Art Gardenswartz. “We made about $35,000 a year with ours, but this event will easily deliver more than $100,000, with both the JCC and Notah’s foundation getting 50 percent.”
Both foundations benefit local kids in many aspects of education and health.
Consolidated Solar Technologies has agreed to be the title sponsor for three years.
“Partnering with the JCC and the NB3F is a natural fit for us as the organizations align with our mission to foster community and environmental stewardship,” said CST’s Mike Putnam, a former Lobo golf star and PGA Tour player.
Begay’s foundation was created in 2005 and reports that it has impacted more than 17,000 Native American children throughout the country, with 75 percent of those being in New Mexico. It has a mission to prevent type 2 diabetes, and its leading cause of child obesity, through sports and health and wellness programs.
The JCC, founded in 2000, has a mission of enriching the community by practicing the values of Jewish life, and provides a wide variety of community, educational, recreational and social service programs that serve people of all ages.
“I was looking for something, and so were they,” Begay said of the JCC. “I was originally going to be part of their event, but it didn’t work out and we decided to partner. It was a gamble on their part, because they already had a very successful event.
“We are both trying to help change things for the kids in the state. The state of New Mexico ranks 50th in child well-being – that’s dead last! It ranks 50th in fourth-grade reading proficiency. Whatever we’re doing here isn’t working. At the end of the day, it’s like, ‘Geez, kids are in a pretty bad spot here.’ ”
Begay said he hopes the proceeds of the tournament – raised primarily through sponsorship – will create a revenue stream that will go beyond his and the JCC foundations.
“Then you begin to distribute that money to programs that are (trying to help kids improve their lifestyles), like a Boys & Girls Clubs, after-school programs, health-based programs. We’re looking beyond our organizations as far as the proceeds are concerned.”
As to how big the tournament could become, Begay says he’s not sure but “I think people underestimate the corporate presence in New Mexico. We have a lot of successful people, we have a lot of successful companies in this state. And I know so many of them are interested in community service and giving back, and this is a great way for them to do that.”
The event has a welcome reception dinner on June 26. Begay will also conduct a free youth golf clinic that day.
Derek Gutierrez, director of golf at the Santa Ana Golf Corporation, said the course has held numerous prestigious events over the years, and this will add to its legacy.
“We have a long history here at Santa Ana, and this can only help to strengthen that résumé,” Gutierrez said. “This event will be bigger than anyone’s anticipated. As it grows, we hope to make Santa Ana Golf Club, and maybe Twin Warriors Golf Club, its home for the future. We’re really honored to be associated like this with the NB3F and the JCC.”
For further information, visit riograndecharityslam.com.