Drive for Kids tourney aims high

JOHN HERBERT, SPECIAL TO SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

Mike Weir could easily make $500,000 this week on the PGA Tour.

This week is different and special for the seven-time PGA Tour winner, who could help raise $500,000 for the Children's Hospital of Western Ontario.

The Bright's Grove native, who now lives in Draper, Utah, is taking time off the PGA Tour to come to London for the first Mike Weir Miracle Golf Drive for Kids at the Sunningdale Golf and Country Club. The Mike Weir Foundation and the Children's Miracle Network of 14 children's hospitals are teaming up for the tournament.

Mike Lerner, who brought the Weir family into the tournament, had predicted $500,000 wasn't out of the question.

"We made $180,000 last year without Mike and I think we'll do a lot better with Mike," said tourney chairperson Vito Finucci, who has been organizing a charity tournament for children's hospital for 17 years.

The tournament replaces the Children's Golf Classic for the Children's Health Foundation, which raised $1.5 million over 17 years. The tournament reverts to its old name next year.

Finucci said Londoners -- the 600-800 attending tomorrow night's cocktail party and auction and about 300 more who paid $375 to play Monday -- will have to open their wallets for the tournament to reach or approach the $500,000 mark.

Finucci and his committee have come up with some creative ways to make money.

Sponsors have paid $3,000 or more to ensure a place in the tournament. Other sponsors have donated auction items such as trips to Mexico, Hawaii and California. The National Hockey League has donated four tickets to next year's Stanley Cup playoffs, Nash Jewellers has donated a $5,000 diamond solitaire and the Tetherwood spa has offered a day of pampering for 10.

About 60 auction items will be up for grabs tomorrow night and again at Monday night's dinner.

Of course, the biggest prize at the auction will be bidding to play nine holes with Weir.

The idea to bring together Weir and the children's hospital in London came from Lerner, chair of the Children's Ambassador's Council raising funds for the new children's hospital to open in 2009. Lerner arranged a meeting with Weir's brother about the concept.

Then Jim Weir pitched it to his brother, who had been looking for a national event to replace the Mike Weir-Dino Ciccarelli charity tournament in Sarnia. That tourney ended because it was too time-consuming and didn't raise enough money.

At about the same time, Weir and his wife, Bricia, started the Mike Weir Foundation to assist children.

"Jim told me at the beginning Mike had a foundation and their philosophy was to help kids," Lerner recalled. "It was a natural match when we looked at their mission statement and he inquired what we were all about."

Weir is looking to hit a big drive with this tournament.

His goal is to make millions for the 14 children's hospitals in Canada through not only the one-day tournament in London but from cash donations across the country. He also hopes to raise money from his association with the National Golf Course Owners Association through their Take a Kid to the Course Week, July 2-8 at 1,300 participating courses. That week, parents will be asked to make a donation in lieu of a free green fee for their child.

"We do want to make this bigger and bigger," Mike Weir said earlier this year. "I've been to a number of events like Brad Faxon's and Billy Andrade's tournaments and they raise maybe $3 (million), $4 million in a single day."

The plan calls for Weir to play each year in a tournament in a different city where there is a children's hospital.

Weir's visit follows a top 20 finish at last weekend's U.S. Open in Pittsburgh.

He arrives tomorrow for a private function at Redtail Golf Course for roundtable members and their guests, Weir's corporate friends and major sponsors of Monday's tournament. The money raised at Redtail will sweeten the pot.

Spectators are not welcome at either course.

John Adams, the general manager at Sunningdale, said there was much debate about inviting the public to attend but in the end "logistically" it just was not possible. He said it would have cost $20,000 just to rope the course. In addition, he said there are not the facilities such as washrooms, security, parking, volunteers or concessions to handle a large crowd.

"It's really about the infrastructure to accommodate a one-day event," he said. "We want to stress this is not about being an exclusive club. We are open to an awful lot of participants at the cocktail party and at the golf course.

The 288 golfers tee off at both Sunningdale courses just after noon Monday. Before golf, Weir will stage a clinic for children from the hospital.


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