A Unique Partnership
The CVS Caremark Charity Classic is not only one of Rhode Island’s premier sporting events - featuring world-class golfers - but one of its leading charity events as well. It’s a unique partnership that has helped the tournament grow over the last 16 years, generating millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations. This week Jim Hummel discovers some things you might not know about the tournament, as he sits down with Brad Faxon, Billy Andrade and the CEO at CVS Caremark.
Brad Faxon is presiding over a reunion of sorts in the parking lot behind The Rhode Island Country Club, where he first picked up a set up golf clubs more than four decades ago.
Faxon is welcoming golfers and their families who have gathered this Monday morning from all over the country for the CVS Caremark Charity Classic. Billy Andrade, Faxon’s childhood friend and co-host for the event, is across the lot kicking off his own annual homecoming.
They met here at the clubhouse in 1975 when Andrade was 11. Faxon was 14 and already a golf phenom. The friendship would continue through college and into their professional careers. And 15 years ago they helped launch a tournament that has generated a total of more than $17 million for nearly two dozen charities in Rhode Island.
Faxon: ``The monies all stay in Rhode Island the go to all different charities, it’s not just for children, it’s not just for women, it’s not just for the hospitals, or boys and girls club, it’s almost every charity you’ve heard of in Rhode Island.’’
And - Faxon says - here’s what you might not know about golf as a professional sport.
Faxon: ``We do something that’s neat: every year the PGA Tour gives more money away to charity than NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL combined, so we kill ‘em.’’
Andrade: ``Golf is different than other sports, you’re not owned by an owner. You’re your own independent contractor and you get to the PGA tour level and you realize all of this money we’re generating for charity every week, every city we play in.’’
The three-day event is a combination of great golf, nearly a thousand volunteers and a lead sponsorship by CVS Caremark with support from the company’s suppliers. Plus the Rhode Island Country Club’s willingness to provide the course. And it takes each element to make it work every year.
Merlo: ``A lot of people talk about the fact that it’s Rhode Island’s premiere sporting event. I think it’s Rhode Island’s premier philanthropic event.’’
CVS Caremark’s CEO Larry Merlo was one of the first to arrive at the club that Monday.
Merlo: ``Brad and Billy do a wonderful job in terms of getting a world-class field of players year after year, whether it’s the PGA Tour, the LPGA, the Champions Tour. I think we’ve been very fortunate over the past 16 years to see some of the legends of golf and at the same time the current stars and the future stars. And the fact that they are very philanthropic focused themselves and you talk to the golfers, and some of them have a favorite charity, some of them have a foundation, they believe in the foundation for what the charity classic stands for.’’
The tournament began in 1999 as a successor to another charity tournament Andrade and Faxon had been running for the better part of a decade. Faxon says the CVS Caremark Charity Classic is modeled after a tournament in Oregon that former CVS CEO Tom Ryan had played in.
Faxon: ``Billy and I had played together and won that tournament a few times and it was on television and they had Arnold Palmer, big sky boxes and people showed up and they gave lots of money to charity, so that’s how we kind of started. And CVC said look we can get big name tour players to come to Rhode island and keep all the money within the state? We’re going to do that. I remember playing the first year and we had Arnold Palmer and we’ve had Jack Nicklaus and we pinch ourselves - here’s Rhode Island Country Club where we grew up playing as little kids. I’m like this is some of the best golfers who ever played and then we’re giving all this money to charity. It’s hard to believe.’’
This year Faxon played with Erik Compton, who the weekend was the runner-up at the U.S. Open Championship at Pinehurst. Compton has gained national attention because of his two successful heart transplants.
Announcer: ``Playing on behalf of Special Olympics Rhode Island in the Closest To The Pin contest, one of your tournament co-hosts Billy Andrade.’’
At the Charity Classic each golfer is paired with a specific charity for the `closest to the pin’ competition within the tournament - in Andrade’s case, his brother Jack has special needs so Special Olympics and the Meeting Street School have been the motivation when he plays.
Compton had the American Heart Association.
Andrade: ``That’s what makes me feel good as a player to see all the young players now that all have foundations and have started charitable tournaments and are giving back to where they grew up. `Wow look at what Billy and Brad have done up in Rhode Island that’s pretty cool. I’m going to do that.’”
Faxon: ``All of these guys are like minded. They are all charitable giving guys and they see what we’re doing in Rhode Island, the numbers for the CVS now are going to be close to $20 million in giving and these players see that and it helps them when they go back to their hometown.’’
Faxon said there is also an intimacy to the tournament that you won’t find many other places - where the golfers and spectators often interact, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Faxon: ``Matt Kuchar hit a guy in the head on the 11th hole and the ball bounced 40 yards sideways, we got there and he’s all bloody - he was smiling, like this is great. It’s not always great.’’
Hummel: ``Did he get him to autograph the ball?’’
Faxon: ``Oh he sure did, I think he got a new shirt too.’’
Faxon and Andrade both credit Merlo for keeping the tournament going when he succeeded Tom Ryan as CEO of CVS Caremark in 2011.
Faxon: ``To have Larry Merlo come in two years ago, it would have been very easy for him as new CEO of CVs to say `you know what, it’s run its course it’s done well.’ And he’s got energy and he’s going to help revitalize. It takes a special person to want to do that, because it’s not easy and it’s easy for somebody in the media to say you know what you could be spending your money other ways. I just think there’s a huge economic impact here for everybody.’’