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Turning Back the Clock for a Good Cause at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

April 25, 2012

By Chris Smith/PGA TOUR


There was a bit of an adjustment period on the first hole, between figuring out how far a shot with a mashie niblick or spoon would fly, how to deal with stymies and other issues of dealing with the unfamiliar. Like the wardrobe.

“The hardest thing,” Rickie Fowler said, “is making contact in this jacket.” A full cashmere dress jacket with tie, that is.

But pros are pros, and after a few wayward shots to start with, the seven players settled in and, in impressive style and fashion, helped Zurich Insurance Group celebrate 100 years of doing business in the U.S. Luke Donald, in fact, recovered from an opening double-bogey to hole out from 100 yards for an eagle-2 on the second, prompting Graeme McDowell to quip, “One hundred years ago, and nothing ever changes: Luke, 100 yards, wedge.”

Dressed in vintage clothing, using replica hickory-shafted clubs and noticeably deadened balls, they played three holes at TPC Louisiana on Tuesday; an entertaining break from preparations for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. The seven were Zurich’s Ambassadors: Donald, McDowell, Fowler, Ben Crane, Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley, and Camilo Villegas.

In addition to entertainment, Zurich also made sure there was a charitable component, with each assured of $1,000 for their designated charities and Villegas and Crane, who birdied the final hole, tying at 1-under par to receive an additional $1,000.

This also helped launch another charitable component tied to Zurich’s involvement with the PGA TOUR, the Zurich Charity Cup. The nine-week program is a fan voting contest and social-media based competition that will award a $30,000 donation to the winning player’s charity, with the others receiving $1,000. The Ambassadors’ charities are: Bradley - Vermont Disaster Relief Fund, Crane - St. Bernard Project, Donald - The First Tee of Chicago, Fowler - American Red Cross for Tsunami Relief, McDowell - The G-Mac Foundation, Rose - Blessings in a Backpack and Villegas - Give to Colombia.

“Charity is an integral part of what we do,” said, Dick Kearns, senior advisor for Zurich’s global golf sponsorships. “And it was going to be an important part of our Ambassador program.”

The 100-Year Challenge was the most visible and original use of its Ambassadors, but Zurich has made very good use of its affiliation with the PGA TOUR and its players. And charity is a major component. Since becoming title sponsor of New Orleans’ tournament – just months before Hurricane Katrina – Zurich together with the Fore!Kids Foundation has raised more than $8 million for charities throughout southeastern Louisiana.

The Ambassador program was launched late in 2010 with six players – the aforementioned with the exception of Bradley, who was added last year. It was created to give the company a year-round golf presence, beyond the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and Farmers Insurance Open (the tie-in being, Zurich Insurance Group has a corporate management services relationship with Farmers Insurance Exchanges).

Zurich strategically targeted players who would represent regions of strong business presence Rose, Donald and McDowell for Europe, for instance; Villegas a rapidly growing presence in Latin America; and Crane, Fowler and now Bradley specific regions of the U.S. But beyond the ability to interact with customers, executives and represent the company well, charity was no less important.

Two specific examples relating to Zurich’s presence as title sponsor in New Orleans are the strong affiliation of Justin Rose and wife Kate to Blessings in a Backpack, a program that ensures impoverished elementary schoolchildren are fed on the weekends throughout the school year; and Ben and wife Heather’s passionate support of the St. Bernard Project, which has been rebuilding homes in New Orleans devastated  by Katrina since 2006. To date, it has rebuilt more than 400 homes.

The Roses, in fact, were among several honored by Zurich in 2011 as recipients of its HelpPoint Heroes program for making a difference. Zurich executives presented the award during a special ceremony prior to last year’s final round of the Zurich Classic. Also honored were the faculty of the local St. Michael Special School and Liz McCartney and Zach Rosenburg, founders of St. Bernard Project … which leads to the special bond with the Cranes.

The roots for the Cranes’ support of St. Bernard Project date back several years, when he first met Rosenburg during the Zurich Classic of New Orleans pro-am. A former Washington, D.C., attorney, Rosenburg founded St. Bernard Project with McCartney, a teacher from D.C. They originally had taken three months to help in the recovery process following Hurricane Katrina, but after returning to D.C., realized that this was their calling.
Crane quickly connected with Rosenburg’s passion. The Cranes came to New Orleans just months after Katrina and had spent a week gutting homes ravaged by the storm.

“Our family stayed at one of the churches, and we’d just go out, deploy our group of about 30 people and just gut houses because they were so filled with water that the sheet rock would just fall off of the studs,” Crane said. “We’d actually walk into a house with someone who hadn’t been back in their house yet, and the whole place had just fallen down, and there’s mildew, and the smell was just horrible. We’d go into these houses with gas masks on and just try to literally bring everything out and hope that they could save the studs.”

When Crane learned of what St. Bernard Project was doing during the pro-am, he wanted to find out more. Despite missing the cut, Crane drove out to meet with Rosenburg on Friday and spent several hours learning about the program. Crane offered to put the Project’s logo on his golf bag to help raise awareness, and he’s been supporting it ever since.
“St. Bernard Project is very dear to my wife’s and my heart,” Crane said. “I love what they are doing.”

In fact, Crane and Zurich are teaming up for the second straight year on yet another fundraising project for St. Bernard Project called “Driving it home with Ben Crane” to benefit the St. Bernard Project, which has been rebuilding homes in the devastated areas of New Orleans since 2006. For every fairway Crane hits off the tee from the Farmers Insurance Open through the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Zurich is donating $100. Last year, Crane hit 244 fairways; this year, he is once again headed toward a similar donation.

And to show it’s not just financial support, Ben and Heather went out to work on a home this past Monday of tournament week. “I actually floored a closet,” he said proudly. “I was on my knees just using a Skil saw and hammering the little pieces of wood into place. They were like, ‘Hey, if you’ve got to go …’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m finishing this closet.’”

Appropriately, Ben and Heather will be around Sunday – whether he makes the cut or not – to receive Zurich’s HelpPoint Hero award, following in the footsteps of Rosenburg and McCartney, as well as Justin and Kate Rose.


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