Big names join Kresge's Krew in golf tournament to raise awareness of autism

George Thwaites • May 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM

PGA Tour professional Cliff Kresge hopes the charity golf tournament he’s organizing will stimulate public awareness of autism.

It’s definitely going to stimulate the Kingsport area’s public interest in golf.

The Kresge’s Krew Foundation Charity Pro-Am Golf Tournament, slated for Sept. 20-21 at Ridgefields Country Club, will include 18 PGA Tour professionals.

“You’re looking at 18 tour professionals, some of whom command very generous appearance fees, and they’re going to come here just for the cost of getting here,” said tournament director David Gardner.

“We’ve had ones or twos over the years, but nothing quite like this.”

In addition to Kresge, early commitments for this event include Ernie Els, Rocco Mediate, Will McKenzie, Mark Wilson, Jason Gore, Paul Azinger, Chris Stroud, Jason Bohn, Rich Beem and Camilo Villegas.

“My goal is to get the best field that I can get. I have some really big names that might be able to come, too, but they have to check their schedules,” Kresge said during Friday’s press conference at Ridgefields.

“This field will be strong. We won’t have any problem getting 18 pros. We just want the best field for what we’re doing.”

Kresge, who is married to the former Judy Gosselin and is a member of Ridgefields Country Club, said he’s not only recruiting great golfers for the event — he’s recruiting great personalities.

“I don’t want a guy that’ll just go out and play golf with them. I want a guy that’ll actually entertain them. Who’ll have fun, tell stories and have a good time. That’s why I immediately thought of Rocco,” said Kresge, who noted that Mediate was the first to commit.

The date of Kresge’s charity pro-am was intentionally scheduled for Monday on the week of the PGA Championship in Atlanta.

“That’s probably the best date. We’ve got no tournament the week before. I thought, ‘Well, some of the guys are going to be there,’” Kresge said. “I said (to Mediate), ‘What if you’re not in the Tour Championship? Would you come all the way from California?’ He said, ‘For that reason, I would.’

“It just touched my heart. It means a lot to me and my family that someone would do something like that.”

Kresge’s 8-year-old son Mason is on the autism spectrum. Els, another of Kresge’s earliest commitments, made international headlines last year when, after winning the Honda Classic, he publicly discussed the autism of his son Ben.

“I hate that it happened. But it couldn’t have been a better thing for autism, to be honest with you,” noted Kresge, who realized he also had a unique opportunity to contribute to the cause.

The charity pro-am in September will be the first major fund raiser of the recently formed Kresge’s Crew Foundation. All proceeds from the event will go to the foundation, which will distribute support to local, regional and national autism associations as well as provide assistance to local families with special financial needs related to their autistic children.

The amateur field is open to 72 players with an entry fee of $2,000 per player. The fee includes the cost of Sunday’s dinner for each player and a guest. Country music star Vince Gill will provide entertainment Sunday and also play in Monday’s pro-am.

Kresge noted that even persons who don’t play golf will be able to participate in the fund raiser by purchasing tickets to Sunday’s dinner.

The pro-am will be a shamble, a modified select-shot format that takes the best drive from each tee and reverts to stroke play the rest of the way to the hole.

Regardless of the format, a lot of people are going to want to see the pros in action.

“We do have issues of gallery. We don’t know what that’s going to be, but we’re going to open the club up for them to come in and watch the event,” Ridgefields golf pro David Gardner said.

“We may have to limit the number for logistics, to work for the city. But we’ll have a gallery.”

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