Pacific hits a hole-in-one

Aug 03, 2007 | Posted in News & Updates

FUNDRAISING: Pacific University draws rave reviews for its first-ever celebrity golf tournament, the Legends Golf Classic

By Zack Palmer
The Forest Grove News-Times, Aug 1, 2007

Long before Tommy Thayer’s approach shot on the par 5, 492-yard 10th hole at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club landed softly on the green and rolled within six feet of the pin, he knew Monday was going to be a good day.

Pacific University

Tommy Whitcomb/News-Times - KISS guitarist and Pacific University trustee Tommy Thayer gives a high-five to teammate Nita VanPelt after making a birdie on the 10th hole Monday.

Thayer, a guitarist for legendary rock band KISS and also a Pacific University trustee, played an integral role in organizing the first-ever Legends Golf Classic, a two-day event that culminated Monday with an 18-hole golf tournament on the nationally acclaimed Ghost Creek course at Pumpkin Ridge.

Largely because of Thayer’s involvement, the tournament drew 140 golfers and 21 celebrities – ranging from PGA Tour professional Shaun Micheel to NFL Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson. Proceeds benefitted the Pacific athletic department, and while the University wouldn’t officially comment on how much money the event raised, preliminary estimates put it close to $50,000 – a nice chunk of change for the Division III school that is aggressively trying to revamp its sports programs.

“The event exceeded all our expectations,” said Pacific Director of Athletics Ken Schumann, who approached Thayer with the idea of a celebrity golf tournament nine months ago. “Based on what we envisioned, I don’t think things could have gone any better.”

Back to Thayer – his iron shot on No. 10 was a thing of beauty, arcing high against the backdrop of a gorgeous afternoon sky before bouncing on the front edge of the green and rolling within six feet of the cup. Teammate Nita VanPelt was able to knock in the putt for birdie, one of several on the day en route to a combined team score of 5-under par.

“You know, I played pretty good today. I felt good,” Thayer said. “I’ve been playing in a lot of tournaments this year. I’m pretty busy with this stuff and somehow I’ve got a rock and roll career too. But I love golf and this has just been spectacular.

“I can’t say enough about everybody that’s involved and everybody that’s helped support his thing.”

One of the items on Schumann’s agenda while working on the strategic plan for Pacific’s athletic department was to improve the school’s annual golf tournament, which had been held for eight years running at Quail Valley Golf Course in Banks.

Thayer, named to Pacific’s Board of Trustees in 2005, played in last year’s golf tournament, which drew 109 players and raised about $15,000 for the school’s athletic department. But Schumann envisioned something bigger, and Thayer’s presence sparked an idea.

“I asked [Tommy] if he’d have any interest in helping build the tournament into something bigger,” Schumann said. “He said he would and it sort of went from there.”

Schumann and Jan Stricklin, the interim Vice President for University Relations, flew to Los Angeles with a business plan last fall and met with Thayer. The original proposal called for a slightly expanded field – perhaps 120 golfers – and a few celebrities to help boost the event’s appeal. Thayer tossed it out the window. He wanted to go bigger, and after calling in favors from a number of friends and acquaintances, the Legends Golf Classic grew into a regional event with commitments from 24 celebrities.

“When I first talked to Ken about doing this, we thought, ‘Oh, maybe we can get two or three celebrities and maybe a pro golfer or two,’” Thayer said. “But this thing just blossomed into this huge event and everything went fantastic.”

The weekend went largely as planned but was not entirely without speedbumps. Actor Dennis Quaid and Oregon football coach Mike Bellotti were no-shows, and many of the weekend’s activities either ran long or started late. The tournament itself was about an hour over budget, forcing several of the PGA players on hand to leave with about three holes left in order to catch their flights.

Still, Monday’s 18-hole scramble at Ghost Creek was the culmination of a huge weekend for Pacific. On Sunday, the school hosted an intimate gathering at Pumpkin Ridge’s private Witch Hollow clubhouse, which included a fancy sit-down dinner, silent and live auctions to benefit the athletic department, and an Unplugged-style concert featuring Thayer, former Night Ranger frontman Jack Blades, Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine and several other famous rockers.

“We were trying to set a new standard for Pacific University with this event,” said Phil Akers, the school’s current Vice President for University Relations. “We wanted to break new ground with the tournament and bring it up to a level that’s on par with what other schools and non-profit organizations are doing.”

Paula Thatcher, Pacific’s Director of Conferences and Events, played a key role in organizing Sunday’s concert.

“In the beginning we talked about doing a concert and we wanted to get a band,” said Thatcher, who runs the school’s on-campus Performing Arts Series concerts. “Then we thought it might be fun to just have the celebrities play and that’s sort of the direction it went.

“It was more individuals than just one band, so we had to make sure everyone had their instruments and everything was set up for them beforehand. It was different than organizing a typical concert, but it came together really well. There was a lot of communication and everybody was excited about it.”

Organizational duties for the golf tournament fell largely to the Pacific athletic department, but the University Relations staff picked up the ball and ran with it for Sunday’s event.

Akers, who took over for Tim O’Malley in April, helped guide the organization of Sunday’s activities.

“Really it’s one big event, but we sort of left the golf part of it to the athletic department and the dinner, auction and concert to the University Relations department,” Akers said. “I think this is a statement for the entire University. Yes, it brings attention to the athletic department, but it’s also about showcasing Pacific University and all it has to offer.”

Pacific was indeed on display over the weekend, with dozens of volunteers from the faculty, administration and student body. With so much going on, the Legends Golf Classic required an unprecedented amount of collaboration and communication.

“Logistically, it’s really something to pull all this together,” Schumann said. “It’s taken almost all the resources of the athletic department and University Relations department to make this happen. It’s been a true partnership, and it’s a true testament to what you can accomplish when you have two in-house entities come together and work together.”

Sunday’s events began with a social hour at the Witch Hollow clubhouse that grew into two hours, then three hours and eventually the entire evening. Celebrities were on hand to rub elbows with tournament entrants and their families, as well as Pacific staffers and media.

Professional golfers such as Micheel and Jason Gore held court and talked about life on the road as PGA Tour pros, while hard rockers like Warrant’s Joey Allen and Erik Turner discussed a different kind of tour, bouncing from city to city and playing concerts almost every night. There were also retired professional athletes on hand, like San Francisco 49ers great Dwight Clark and former Los Angeles Dodgers star Eric Karros, who wowed the crowd with their own war stories.

The silent auction was a success, with an Aerosmith autographed guitar fetching over $3,000. A 49ers helmet signed by Clark and bearing an Xs and Os diagram of “The Catch” brought in almost $700. When there was some confusion over the bidding process, Clark graciously agreed to sign another helmet.

The live auction went even better than its silent predecessor, hauling in a staggering $14,000 for a Washburn guitar signed by the members of KISS.

Several vacations also fetched top dollar, including a getaway to the 2007 PGA Championship and a barbeque with Micheel at his home in Tulsa, Okla.

Blades’ flight to Portland was delayed, but the featured performer arrived in time to kick off an acoustic jam session with Thayer and several other pals, ripping through tracks from KISS, Chicago, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and his own bands, Night Ranger and Damn Yankees. The concert wrapped around midnight, but many guests stayed well into the morning for a once-in-a-lifetime party.

“The first four hours were pretty stressful,” said Akers. “But it was an awful lot of fun once we were able to relax and just enjoy it.”

Monday started with a putting contest, then a clinic for the tournament field hosted by Micheel. The 30-minute question-and-answer session featured tips and tricks from Micheel and Gore, plus otherPGA players on hand, including Tommy Armour III, Nathan Green and Tim Petrovic.

After a brief opening ceremony, the field dispersed for a 1 p.m. shotgun start and an afternoon on a beautiful course with the celebrity of their choice.

The field was split into a PGA Flight, a Celebrity Flight and a Boxer Flight. Each four-person team entered a “Calcutta Auction,” where they bid earlier in the week for the right to draft a celebrity for their Monday round of golf.

Monday’s weather was flawless and the Ghost Creek course, challenging by just about any standards, afforded golfers scenic views all day. Even those who played poorly still enjoyed a great event.

“It has been a lot of work, but I don’t want to use the word ‘overwhelming’ because it hasn’t been,” Schumann said. “We have a lot of great people involved in this, and that gives you the confidence that you can pull off an event of this stature.”

When the carts started rolling in after the golf tournament, Schumann was the first person out of the clubhouse to greet almost everyone.

“Next year is going to be bigger and better,” he said to former Major Leaguer Chuck Finley, whose Apple Computers team participated in the Celebrity Flight. “We’re going to learn from this year. We’re going to fix the things that went wrong and improve on the things that went right. We’d love to see you back out here next year.”

Thayer, searching for a way to describe all the hard work and long hours that went into the Legends Golf Classic, eventually turned to a nuptial analogy.

“It reminds me of planning a wedding,” he said, laughing. “A wedding’s a big thing too, but you wouldn’t imagine how much [work] went into this thing. It’s not only me, it’s the whole staff here. I know everybody here has put in hundreds of hours doing this stuff.

“Everything just came together like clockwork and I’m really pleased.”