With two dozen professional golfers participating in Monday’s world-class Pro-Am scramble, it is the largest fundraiser of the year for the only children’s hospital in the Tri-Cities region. To date, the Classic has raised over $5 million.
Mike Hulbert, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour and ETSU alum, has traveled the world, even serving as an assistant on the Ryder Cup team. He’s passionate about coming back to support the children’s hospital in Johnson City, which serves a population of more than 200,000 children in a 29-county range from Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky.
“Each year, it keeps growing with the money they raise. My hat’s off to (tournament director) Mike Hammontree and his staff to put this together and bring in the LPGA pros, my fellow Champions Tour and regular tour guys,” Hulbert said. “What they’ve done, the money raised and what they’ve built, it’s special, especially where I went to school.”
It was announced last week that Hulbert will serve as a volunteer assistant coach at ETSU, where his son, Trevor, is a senior on the golf team. A former All-American at ETSU and a 2002 inductee into the ETSU Athletics Hall of Fame, the coaching gig comes at a time when Hulbert is taking a brief respite from his role as PGA rules analyst for CBS Sports.
“Coach (Jake) Amos asked me a little back in between my schedule with CBS,” Hulbert said. “We ended for the fall so we don’t have to do anything for a while. I dabbled in it a couple of years ago with Coach Fred (Warren) and enjoyed it. I like working with the kids and I know them all. There are some good freshmen coming in, some good juniors, so I’m looking for a good season.”
Hulbert still plays professionally on a limited schedule, teeing it up this weekend at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open for the Champions Tour.
Cliff Kresge, a four-time professional winner and current player on the Web.com tour, has a special connection to the Niswonger tournament. As a Kingsport resident, he sees the benefit to the local community, plus he’s involved with raising money for kids through his Kresge’s Krew Foundation.
“Kids are near and dear to all of our hearts and it’s important to help the hospital as much as possible,” Kresge said. “As some people know with my autism foundation, I’m trying to always help out as much as I can. To be here in the local community, it’s a special place and we’re really glad that Mr. Niswonger does what he does to give back to the community.”
Corey Pavin, the 1995 U.S. Open champion, is a multi-time participant in the Niswonger Classic. He first met tournament founder Scott Niswonger in 2010 and they soon became good friends. Since then, Pavin has enjoyed his visits to the Tri-Cities area and likes how the tournament helps the St. Jude’s affiliated hospital.
“It’s always great to come back here. What a great cause with the children’s hospital to help families,” Pavin said. “It’s not only just the kids, but the whole family, keeping them together to be able to get them the medical attention and the personal service.
“It makes it easy to play and have fun when we know what we’re doing it for. To help the hospital and have fun, it’s a great way to spend the day.”
Larry Mize, the 1987 Masters champion, echoed many of Pavin’s thoughts. He takes his fundraising role seriously, but also wants to make sure the day is fun for those playing alongside him.
“We’re so lucky to get to play this game,” Mize said. “To raise money for the children’s hospital, it’s just such a great thing to be able to do. You hate anyone being sick, but when it’s the kids, it really touches you. It’s fun to be in an atmosphere like this with Corey, Gene Sauers, Loren Roberts and all the guys I played with on the PGA Tour, just a good bunch of guys.”