Golf is the game that gives back. Each year, pro events donate millions to charity and virtually every day amateurs somewhere are playing in outings that raise billions for a worthy causes. This year, the benefitting charity of the Senior LPGA Championship – Riley’s Hospital for Children – gained a national stage first on Golf Channel during the tournament, which ended Oct. 17, and then on ABC during the Purdue-Ohio State football game Oct. 20.
Before each round of the Senior LPGA on The Pete Dye Course at French Lick, one of Riley’s Kids would serve as the first tee announcer. These young people are patients of Riley’s Hospital for Children in Indianapolis and since 2014, starting with The Legends Tour, the senior women’s event at French Lick has raised about $1 million for Riley’s Children Foundation, $200,000 each of the last two years as the Senior LPGA.
One of Riley’s Kids is Tyler Trent, who is a super-fan of Purdue University football. Tyler, who is 20, has also been battling bone cancer for several years. He was spotlighted in a feature by reporter Tom Rinaldi of ABC/ESPN that aired during Purdue’s game against Ohio State, a matchup that pitted the unranked Boilermakers against the No. 2 Buckeyes.
At the end of the segment, Tyler, who is frail and shows the toll of his fight, made this prediction: “Purdue’s gonna win,” he said. “That’s what I think is gonna happen. Purdue is gonna win.”
It had been 34 years since Purdue defeated a team ranked as high as No. 2 and there was no reason to think that would change on this Saturday night – unless you believe in miracles. The Final Score: Purdue 49, Ohio State 20.
Riley’s Hospital for Children helps make miracles and there are a lot of magical moments that go on at the Senior LPGA. The partnership between the LPGA, Riley’s, the French Lick Resort and its parent company, the Cook Group, is a tale of how great ideas emerge from hard work, imagination and the willingness to change.
“When the tournament became a Legend’s Tour event in 2013, we partnered with a national charity but we didn’t feel like our community felt the direct impact,” said Dave Harner, director of golf at French Lick and tournament director of the Senior LPGA. “My son was a student at Indiana University and they did a dance marathon for Riley’s Kids that raised $3.5 million and the idea clicked that we should go that route.”
The Indiana University Dance Marathon is a 36-hour fundraiser held every November since 1991 that has raised more than $32 million for Riley’s Hospital. That idea was hatched by a friend of Ryan White, who died of AIDS in 1990 at the age of 18 in the Riley Hospital in a case that gained national attention.
The Riley Hospital was founded in 1916 and named for the poet and writer James Whitcomb Riley, who lived in Indianapolis. The hospital offers medical care to all Indiana children regardless of ability to pay and has become one of the top pediatric hospitals in the country.
“We are a top-10 research hospital in the nation and Indianapolis is not a top-10 market,” said Jim Austin, chief marketing office and corporate partnership officer for Riley’s Children Foundation. “The care and compassion of folks like French Lick and the Cook Group make that possible.”
The Cook Group, a Bloomington, Ind.-based medical device company, has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the French Lick area, revitalizing a community that had fallen on tough times. The Cook Group restored the French Lick Springs Hotel and the West Baden Springs Hotel and built the French Lick Resort Casino. It also has three golf courses, including the Pete Dye Course.
“This partnership is a tribute to the French Lick Resort and the Cook Group,” Austin said. “They felt the addition of a kid’s component with women golfers would be a match made in heaven. It felt natural to take a cause that is so prevalent in any community – if you ask a room full of people how many have been impacted by childhood cancer through family and friends 90 percent would raise their hands – into the golf community.”
For the Riley’s Children's Foundation it is a win-win situation. “There is the development aspect and the money we raise,” Austin said. “But there is also the interaction with the athletes that is special to the children.”
The Cook Group wanted to use the Senior LPGA to create an impact that could be felt within Indiana. Riley’s Hospital hoped to benefit from that vision. But it is likely neither realized how perfect it was to team up with the LPGA until the event actually happened.
"The demeanor of golfers, the playing field, it is all so special,” Austin said. “This is a very caring, compassionate group of people. Honestly, I don’t think we would have had the same connection with senior men. We’ve been involved five years now and the players come back and look for the kids they have come to know and some of the players have become major donors to the hospital.”
More than the dollars raised, it is the hopes raised that make the Senior LPGA such a success. More than the fiery look in the eyes of the competitors, it is the look of gratitude and admiration in the eyes o the children that makes the week magical.
It’s safe to say the Senior LPGA has been a major championship in every way possible for the players, Riley’s, the Cook Group, French Lick and Indiana, proving once again that golf is the game that gives back.