Sneak Peek: This article will appear in the March 25 edition of Global Golf Post.
RIO VERDE, ARIZONA | They originally came for the person. Now, they come for the cause.
When Betsy King founded the Golf Fore Africa charity in 2008 after taking a heartbreaking trip to Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia and witnessing the plight of HIV-infected children in those countries, she wasn’t sure what she could do. The problems were so vast and systemic; so cultural and historic; so daunting and dire that she wasn’t sure what difference a golfer – even one with a legendary career – could make. But King is a woman of great faith who believes the Almighty makes all things possible.
That faith came full circle when King hosted her annual Golf Fore Africa pro-am at the Tonto Verde Golf Club, near Phoenix and about 20 minutes from the J.W. Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa where the LPGA’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup is being contested this week. At noon on Monday, 47 LPGA professionals, more than a third of the field in the tour’s first full-field U.S. event, went out with four amateurs apiece – 235 players over two courses – for the largest non-tour-related pro-am of the year. The event raised $488,000 in a single day to provide fresh water wells to African villages in Zambia.
“It’s pretty amazing what Betsy has done,” Lydia Ko said. “You can see it, not just in the number of players who come out but in the number of people from out of town who fly in just for this.”
And you can see it in the enthusiasm. Katherine Kirk couldn’t wait to thank every amateur on the range. Amy Olson, who has sponsored a fresh-water well for a village and traveled to Africa with King, had a group of amateurs in from her hometown of Fargo, N.D.
Sarah Jane Smith, who is pregnant, hit balls next to Mo Martin, who joked that Smith’s new center of gravity had made her swing even better. And Juli Inkster helped haul in items that would later be auctioned off.
“We’re so blessed,” King said. “To have this many people come out and support this cause. You know, a one-time $50 donation can provide drinking water to an African child for life. And with that comes education, health, community development.
“Did you know that the leading cause of death among children in Africa is disease caused from drinking dirty water? Did you know that in her lifetime the average African woman will walk the distance from where we are standing to the moon just to carry water? And at least half that journey will be with about 40 pounds of water, usually on her head.”
When you talk to Betsy King, she tells you, without hesitation, that her 40 years in golf was just the vehicle to get her to this place; to this mission; to this meaning in her life.
It’s impossible not to be sucked in when King talks about her mission. “Just $15,000 will build a well for an entire village,” she says. “It’s hard for us, here, to imagine what kind of impact that has.”
“It’s such a stark reminder that when we say to ourselves, ‘Oh, I don’t have this,’ or ‘I don’t have that,’ that there are people on that side of the world who don’t even have clean water,” Ko said. “What Betsy is doing to make a change for the better and give these people hope is amazing. Her trips to Africa, doing what she does is really an inspiration.”
Kim Kaufman agreed.
“If you sit there and listen to the stories and hear about what a difference you can make, if you’re not a little moved I worry about what’s in your heart,” Kaufman said. “It’s basic clean water but what it does in terms of education and economic opportunity is amazing. And watching Betsy devote her life to it is incredible.”
Devotion is a key word for King. This is a woman who spent 29 years on the LPGA Tour; a woman who won 34 LPGA events including six major championships; who was Player of the Year three times and twice a winner of the Vare Trophy for the lowest stroke average in the women’s game. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame and the LPGA Hall of Fame (arguably the most difficult hall in the world to enter) in 1995. But when you talk to her, she tells you, without hesitation, that her 40 years in golf was just the vehicle to get her to this place; to this mission; to this meaning in her life.
“Wouldn’t it be great if every athlete in every sport found that?” Kaufman said. “Her life has been so wonderful. To have the career she had and then to realize that it was all a setup for this mission, which she will tell you is 100 times more important than anything she did on the golf course, is just awe inspiring. To get 47 pros … nobody gets 47 pros to show up like that.”
King blushes at the idea that players came because of her. But she just as quickly agrees with the notion that they come back for the women and children in a faraway land.
“I went for Betsy last year,” Ko said. “But then you hear all the stories and see the difference that she has made in these people’s lives, the profound difference … it makes you want to make (the world) better. It makes you want to come back.”
At the post-dinner auction on Monday, a golf package with rounds at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Spanish Bay sold for $15,000. “That’s a well,” King said. Within two minutes, two more packages had been sold at the same price. Three golf trips for well-to-do enthusiasts: the gift of life for three villages in West Africa.
“Oh, it’s by far the most important thing now,” King said. “I play golf today because of Golf Fore Africa. I don’t know how much I would play without it. Not much.”
The Monday pro-am was one of seven Golf Fore Africa puts on every year. King will host another one at Mid Pines, across the street from Pine Needles, during the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
If she and her charity remain on track, the entire country of Zambia will have clean water by 2030.
“I’m so glad I came and I’m going to keep coming,” Kaufman said. “Every year I say, ‘I’m going to go to Africa.’ And I will go one of these years. It’s life changing. Just look at Betsy.”
Yes, just look.
Top: Betsy King and some of the children who benefit from a village well in Zambia. Photo: Courtesy Golf Fore Africa
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