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Dick Harmon: Simple golf idea has united Mesquite and raised thousands for children in need

Published: Saturday, Dec. 21 2013 4:27 p.m. MST

A line of toys four and five deep for 75 yards in the Casablanca event tent in Mesquite, Nev., gathered by police and fire officers from golfers.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News

MESQUITE, Nev. — Something akin to Christmas gold has been rising from the desert retirement community of Mesquite, Nev., the past decade.

Residents, mostly golfers, have stepped forward and donated an estimated $300,000 in toys for needy children, enough to deliver Christmas to every identifiable disadvantaged child in Mesquite and nearby Beaver, Moapa Valley, Logandale and Overton the past nine years.

It’s a miracle of sorts.

It’s a movement, Golf Fore Kids, that’s caught fire, gaining momentum every year since its inception in 2004 when the current bishop of the LDS Church's Mesquite Sixth Ward, Rob Wursten, brought up an idea he carried from Gilbert, Ariz., and golf courses in Sun City.

Nine years ago, Rob, then the head professional at Falcon Ridge Golf Course in Mesquite, asked his brother Brian, the general manager at the facility, if the owner would consider donating the golf course for a day to players who would compete in a tournament where the entry fee was a toy that cost at least $50 bucks.

“Wow, that’s asking a lot. I don’t know. You could ask him.” said Brian.

Rob asked, and the answer came back yes.

In mid-December, Rob and his assistant stood before the stage overlooking an army of folks eating lunch in Casa Blanca’s giant event tent. Before them were 126 bicycles and toys stacked four-to-five deep that stretched nearly the length of a football field. The tent was donated, and so were the food, plates, tables, chairs, raffle gifts and tournament prizes. Outside in the parking lot, an older couple who were non-golfers, pulled up in a pickup truck and asked for help unloading a pair of $100 bikes. They were ready to just drive away when Brian Wursten asked if they were hungry and invited them to come inside.

In 2004, the event started by Rob with Falcon Ridge drew 144 golfers. In 2013, 504 golfers signed up and played at four donated courses, including Falcon Ridge, Conestoga, The Palms and Oasis Canyons. On that day, the famous Wolf Creek Golf Club announced it wanted in join the cause in 2014. “They keep calling up and wanting to be a part,” said Rob Wursten.

“Everything you see, every part of this, is net, all donated — from administration, food, prizes and gifts,” said City of Mesquite councilman Geno Withelder. Police and firefighters use their trucks to pick up and haul the gifts around. “They need to get moved several times. We brought them here to show how massive it is,” said Wursten at the luncheon.

Unknowingly, the 500 golfers are helping with a profound charitable tradition in the sport. In America an incredible $3.9 billion was raised for people in need by golfers in 2011, according to the National Golf Foundation. Whether they are members of the PGA Tour or one of 12 million amateur and casual golfers represented by those in Mesquite, they participate in one of 143,000 charity golf days across 12,000 courses. Each amateur event like this one in Mesquite raises an average of $26,000. No other sport comes close.

“It’s hard to tell the value of each gift,” said Rob. “We ask that they be a minimum of $50, but many are worth close to $100. I’m just impressed with the community and how they have embraced it.”

Mesquite Gaming wrote out a check for $2,000 to Golf Fore Kids and another $2,000 for Shop With a Cop, another event tied to the day in Mesquite.

The money and gifts are administered by the Salvation Army, which begins taking applications from needy kids in October. Through its Angel Tree Program, it identifies kids who need clothes first, then toys. The Shop With a Cop program involves Mesquite’s police officers, who have a day in which an officer is matched with an underprivileged kid for a Christmas shopping outing at Wal-Mart.

“It’s nice to see the kids come in the store with an officer and their attitude is one of gratitude, what can they get for their dad or mom or brother or sister, even if they don’t get along with them,” said Mesquite Police Sgt. Mike Van Houten.

Roberta Franco with the Salvation Army said there are strict guidelines for identifying needy families and kids. “This year we had 30 percent repeat participants and 70 percent who were new, and that’s a good thing. It means people are moving on to the next step.”

Cody Law, executive director of Golf Mesquite Nevada, said the charity has blossomed as golfers from southern Nevada and Utah have caught on with the event.

"Of all the many things we do each year, our involvement with the Golf Fore Kids tournament is our favorite,” said Law.

“This event allows us to forget about ourselves and give to the many families that need help by providing a wonderful Christmas for their families. Doing what we do best, which is golf, we are able to provide pure service, no strings attached, to the community in which we live and work."

The bottom line is, it’s amazing and inspiring what power can come from a little dimpled ball and charitable hearts when set loose on an idea.

Just ask Rob Wursten.

It all began with the question, “What if … ”

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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