It's America. We all celebrate freedom in our own special ways.

Today, Ernie Smith will celebrate by playing golf.

Ernie is what you might call a patriotic golf hustler, a combination between your basic hustler, i.e. a person who lures you to the golf course and then takes your money, and your basic patriot, i.e. a person who loves his country and will do everything he can to preserve it.

As founder and chairman of the annual Freedoms Foundation Golf Tournament, Ernie helps raise money for the Utah chapter of the Freedoms Foundation, a national organization headquartered in Valley Forge, Pa., that is dedicated to remembering, preserving and honoring the American way of life.

Every year in the first part of June, he invites 32 foursomes to play in his fundraising tournament in Tooele. The buy-in is $500 per foursome. The pay-out is the warm feeling you get from helping fund the foundation's variety of services, including scholarships for teenagers and schoolteachers to travel to Valley Forge and immerse themselves in the principles of freedom.

Ernie's golf tournament, which tees off today in Tooele at The Links at Overlake golf course, raises about $15,000. A phone derby and private donations make up the rest of the nonprofit organization's $40,000-a-year budget.

But there's little question that the golf outing is the most fun, not to mention the best metaphor for freedom, American style.

Where else do businesses let their employees play golf for half-a-day on a Wednesday — and pay extra for the privilege?

"It's a really great cause," says Ernie, a real estate developer who was drafted into the Freedoms Foundation when he moved back to Utah five years ago after spending time out-of-state. A friend and then-chapter president, Bill Perry, asked Ernie if he would be the chapter's fundraiser.

A cancer survivor, Ernie had spent 10 years helping run the American Cancer Society's national fundraising golf tournament in Florida, three of those years as event chairman. "I know how to run golf tournaments," he says.

He decided to do what he knew. The first Freedoms Foundation golf outing was held in 2005 and it's been a yearly tradition ever since.

"What I love about this tournament," says Ernie, "is that there is no overhead. I'm not saying the cancer society doesn't do a lot of good with its tournament, but there is quite a bit of overhead. Here, everything that's given goes to the Freedoms Foundation totally."

It helps that the aforementioned Bill Perry owns the course on which the event is played.

"Bill thinks enough of the cause that he gives us his golf course for free," says Ernie.

Everything else, he adds, is also donated. The lunch is free; the goodie bags are free.

Anyone see a theme here?

"Look," says Ernie. "This is such a great country. I love America and I'm just trying to pay a little back. That's really why anyone decides to get involved in something like this. To give something back."

And if you can give it back by playing golf on green grass under sunny skies in the middle of the week, what better tribute to freedom?


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.