BRISTOL, Va. — If you happen to be looking for Darius Rucker these days, he shouldn’t be difficult to find. Chances are if he’s not on stage, he’s on the golf course.
“I love the game,” Rucker said. “I’ve been playing since I was 14. I love being outside. I love hitting that little ball.”
Rucker, the former frontman for the band Hootie and the Blowfish, has reinvented himself as a country music star with three consecutive No. 1 albums. He was at the Virginian on Monday with numerous celebrities from the world of sports for the Niswonger Children’s Hospital Golf Classic.
“It’s just amazing how much money you can raise through golf tournaments,” he said. “ It’s just great to raise that much money for charity.”
Rucker’s love of golf is well documented. He plays five times a week when he’s home in South Carolina, and two or three times a week when he’s on the road. His Pro-am called Monday After the Masters has raised more then $4 million for charity. He also sponsors college tournaments for men’s and women’s teams and has put on a fund-raising tournament in Nashville for the past four years.
He sang at Tiger Woods’ wedding and played Augusta National with Arnold Palmer.
“It’s my only hobby,” Rucker said. “It’s the only thing I do when I’m not playing music or hanging out with my family. I love golf.”
One of Rucker’s hit country songs is a remake of Wagon Wheel, the Old Crow Medicine Show tune that features a line “Johnson City, Tennessee.”
Hootie and the Blowfish played in Johnson City, at Quarterbacks, several times during the 1990s. The bar has been leveled, but the memories still remain.
“Quarterbacks,” Rucker said with a laugh. “I remember it like it was yesterday. We played Quarterbacks probably eight, nine times.”
Rucker has another tie to Johnson City. He’s friends with South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, who grew up here.
“He’s a great dude,” said Rucker, who formed Hootie and the Blowfish in the late 1980s while he was a student at South Carolina. “I’ve played golf with him. He’s a great guy. We’re blessed to have him at South Carolina. He’s a great coach, but he’s a better man. He’s really great to have around. He’s always willing to help. I’m proud to know Coach Spurrier.”
The Niswonger event, including Sunday night’s concert by Rucker and Monday’s golf outing, was a success, raising in the neighborhood of $700,000.
The list of celebrities included Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, NFL sacks king Bruce Smith, Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith, former NBA sharpshooter Del Curry, Falcons head coach Mike Smith, new ETSU football coach Carl Torbush, former Tennessee coaches Phillip Fulmer and Bruce Pearl, Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer and pro golfers Corey Pavin, Larry Mize and Tom Purtzer.
“We get to go out and have a fun time and raise money for kids,” Marino said. “That’s the great thing about golf. The affect it has on the community is important, and that’s what makes you feel good.”
At 51, Marino says golf is a good outlet for his competitive nature.
“There’s no senior league for football, so that’s over,” he said. “The only other way to be competitive is ‘Let’s play some golf and see how you stand up to other people.’ ”
Emmitt Smith is more known for being a three-time Super Bowl champion and a former winner of Dancing With the Stars, but he’s getting more and more involved with golf.
“I try to get out at least once a week,” Smith said. “I’m trying to become a better golfer. I ain’t trying to become Tiger Woods, but I’m trying to shoot the best round I can possibly shoot.”
Once Smith started playing golf, he was quickly hooked by the challenge.
“Golf is one of the most difficult sports I’ve played in my life,” Smith said. “It’s something you can never master. Golf is one of those sports that can never be tamed, never be controlled, never be mastered.
“That’s crazy. I love it.”