The PGA Tour is proud of its charity record and continually publicizes the work it does in each community at each stop along the way. But this week at Colonial, charity dollars have become nearly as much of a story as the golf. Title sponsor Crowne Plaza Hotels already put in place several unique touches to raise charity money before the week had started, and then the tornadoes in Texas and Oklahoma over the past month added another charity element for many of the players and spectators.
Rickie Fowler, who has an endorsement deal with Crowne Plaza, was already the face of this week's stop at Colonial. There are billboards and banners with Fowler everywhere, and kids in Puma gear line the ropes on every hole. He's also a well-known Oklahoma State grad, a product of that progam's rich tradition and he's obviously very proud of it as he covers himself from head-to-toe in OSU orange on Sundays. Fowler, originally from California, told me on Friday that Oklahoma is a part of him now so he felt obligated to organize some sort of relief effort this week.
Crowne Plaza had already planned to set up Red Cross tornado relief donation stations throughout the course, and then Fowler chipped in on Wednesday with the announcement that he would match the first $100,000 raised. Fowler joins other Oklahoma athletes, such as Kevin Durant and fellow OSU golfer Hunter Mahan, who are working to help out a recovery effort that will cost billions. The 24-year-old also told me that he would donate $100k even if the on-course efforts didn't get to that mark. While Fowler is in his customary Sunday orange, Crowne Plaza and Colonial have pushed spectators and officials associated with the tournament to wear red on Sunday in support of the tornado victims and relief efforts.
On top of the tornado relief, the title sponsor has also put in a set of charity measures to add a little more weekend competition. Each player's caddie will have a color-coded and labeled bib, representing one of four charities -- First Tee of Fort Worth, Year Up Atlanta, Junior Achievement USA, and IHG Shelter in a Storm -- the "Charity Foursome." Before the round, each pairing is assigned one of the four charities with Crowne Plaza sending $100 for every birdie and $500 for every eagle to the organization that player is representing (Saturday's tally totaled $25,400). The measure adds a tinge of competition to the weekly charity efforts on Tour.
In addition to the four charities, fans are also encouraged to donate some of the proceeds from their wagers at Colonial's famed par-3 13th hole. I spent some time out at No. 13 late on Saturday, when the crowd was fully hydrated, and it was a pretty wild scene. The par-3 16th at the Phoenix Open gets much of the hype, but the atmosphere at No. 13 at Colonial is still a good blend of an organic party that hasn't been over-promoted like the spectacle at TPC Scottsdale. Much like that par-3 in Arizona, fans here wager on caddie races up to the green, with chants resounding in this corner of the course. Crowne Plaza has attempted to encourage spectators, via handheld fans, to donate some of those gambling windfalls to one of the four charities. And given the scene, the folks may be feeling good enough to be loose with their cash and charitable.
These PGA Tour events are big business, and there's going to be promotion and branding on almost every inch of available space at the course. This week, however, the charity push seems particularly strong due to current events and some creativity from the title sponsor. With most people wearing red here on Sunday, it's the backdrop story for much of the day at the longest running PGA Tour stop.