DiMarco's Tee Up for Life Event Touches Many
January 24, 2010
By Laury Livsey, PGA TOUR Staff
Chris DiMarco had just enjoyed a breakthrough season as a professional. He had finished ninth on the 1993 Nike Tour money list, earning just under $100,000, enough to secure his 1994 PGA TOUR playing privileges. Life was good for DiMarco, the New York transplant who called Orlando, Fla., home.
Then he learned the breast cancer his grandmother -- his dad's mother -- had been suffering from had spread.
"She fought it for two years," DiMarco said. "She had a lumpectomy, but it eventually was too much and she passed away."
Two years later, DiMarco, already aware his paternal grandfather had kidney cancer, took a phone call while playing the TOUR event near Hartford, Conn., informing him that his grandfather had died.
"That cancer just spread," DiMarco said. "They opened him up, and the cancer was everywhere. It was hard for my dad to watch both parents just wilt away."
It's no wonder, then, that DiMarco is so passionate about cancer, running the annual Norma DiMarco Tee Up for Life Golf Tournament, a charity golf event that supports Reaching Out to Cancer Kids as well as providing funds for cancer research. The two-day event finishes Monday in Heathrow, Fla.
Proceeds from DiMarco's golf tournament, named in honor of his mother who died in 2006, goes to send children and teenagers suffering from cancer to Camp Boggy Creek in Orlando. It's a year-round camp for seriously ill children, a place for them to go to have fun. The Norma DiMarco Tee Up for Life Golf Tournament typically sends about 175 kids to camp each year. Camp Boggy Creek doesn't charge families, instead using proceeds from charitable contributions. The camp was started by a group that included the late actor Paul Newman and retired U.S. Army General H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
"I loved my grandparents, and they were in their 70s when they died. They had lived full lives," DiMarco said. "What I hate to see is the young kids who get this terrible disease. We pay for them to go to Boggy Creek, and maybe it helps them just a little."
"I'm 71 years old, and I've seen way too many of my friends and family eaten up by this terrible disease," said Rich DiMarco, Chris' father, the Tee Up for Life tournament director and also a cancer survivor. He had prostate cancer and has been clean for five years.
Rich DiMarco thinks about all the children with cancer he's met during the last nine years of the golf tournament. He gets quiet when he thinks about one in particular, a boy who benefited from funds generated by the tournament.
"This young man was 13, almost 14, and he'd struggled with cancer for a while," the elder DiMarco said. "[His parents] thought they had it under control. He came to our tournament, he chatted to 300 people in the ballroom and told all of us how much this tournament helped him. A couple of years later, that boy died, and when I found out, it was earth-shaking to me. We all felt, though, that we contributed to giving him happiness and peace for the time he had on this earth. Maybe that wouldn't have happened without our little tournament."
This year's festivities at Heathrow Country Club, just outside Orlando, include what people have come to expect: dinner for all the patrons, with a silent and live auction featuring plenty of golf memorabilia. DiMarco prevailed on Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink and Y.E. Yang to sign pin flags from the tournaments they won this year. That would be the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. With more than a few TOUR connections, DiMarco has ensured that the auction items available are a TOUR lover's dream.
Throw in a bunch of celebrities (they receive no appearance fees, with the majority of them living in and around Orlando) who play with each group, and a Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup veteran who plays the 12th hole at Heathrow with each foursome, and it's a full day.
"Yeah, I'm on the 12th hole for a long time back and forth between the tee and green. It is a bit like 'Groundhog Day,'" DiMarco said. "But I love being with everybody."
"We want almost a carnival-like atmosphere where people will have fun, with the goal that they will be generous and we can generate these funds," Rich said.
"What we want this to be is a fun time, a fun atmosphere," Chris said. "We tee off at 11 in the morning Monday because who wants to get up for an 8 o'clock tee time?"
Another element of the tournament that Chris added is a de-emphasis on which foursome wins the scramble event.
"Each member of the winning team does get a nice piece of crystal that they can take home and put in their office, but if the winning part of things becomes so important then I think everybody loses sight of why we're playing this tournament," he said.
Chris immediately begins to again talk about Boggy Creek, and it's obvious he knows exactly why he puts so much time and effort into the event.
Both DiMarcos like to recall the 2005 tournament. With Hurricane Wilma bearing down on Florida, the golf portion of the event had to be canceled because of the danger associated with the storm. Like any good golfer in the rough, DiMarco scrambled. He prevailed on World Golf Hall of Fame member Nancy Lopez to join him, and the duo put on a clinic for the attendees. Everybody still came to the pairings party even though there were no actual, well, pairings. Even as DiMarco ad libbed, people ate, bid on auction items, mingled with celebrities, played cards and went away happy. All the participants were then told the tournament would refund their money if requested.
"Nobody asked for their money back," said Greg Warmoth, a member of the tournament committee. "Imagine the stress of telling all these people they're not going to be able to play golf, and nobody cares that they can't. That year the tournament netted $680,000, and everybody was just happy to be here supporting Chris."
"I thought I knew a lot about cancer because of my family," DiMarco said. "I know a lot more now. And so do the people who support this tournament."
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