Golf “outings” are a staple of charity fundraising here in southeastern Michigan. For donations of $75 (local charities, local tracks) to several thousand dollars (regional events at big name courses such as Oakland Hills), participants get a round of golf, a meal, and the opportunity to win prizes donated by local businesses. Many outings also run a series of raffles and side bets, such as the Fifty-Fifty, Skins and Calcuttas. The format nearly always is a four man team scramble over 18 holes, with a shotgun start.
Outings are in general a lot of fun—an opportunity for four friends to get together, play golf, drink, smoke cigars and generally let off steam, all in the name of a good cause. Or so I thought.
An incident at a recent outing I attended has made me realize that some players have managed to turn playing charity golf into a sort of part time job.
I had just finished registering for the outing and was headed to my cart when one of the other players approached and asked if I wanted to get in on some of the side games. He explained that the pot for the regular event wasn’t large enough and that his group wanted some more action.
With my game in its current shambles, I wouldn’t be betting as much as making a donation. So I declined the donation. I did notice, however, that quite a few others were putting up some cash. So I did some thinking and asking around.
As it turns out, this particular foursome plays in an outing virtually every weekend during the season (as well as in a couple of golf leagues). All are excellent golfers (single and low two digit handicappers) and they apparently manage to win the majority of their starts. On this particular outing, the group took the first place cash, plus prizes for closest to the hole on two par 3s, and longest drive on two par fives. They also apparently managed to cash in on the vast majority of the side skins game they were running. I don’t know what their total was, but in this outing with a “small pot,” they more than covered the entry fee with just the first place showing.
While golf hustlers are present at every course, I think charity golf outings must offer a particularly juicy target. Most of the golfers are there for the social benefits, and to support the charity, not to play competitive golf. In my experience, the majority of the participants are high handicappers—weekenders and once-or-twice a year golfers. A good score for the scramble would be one or two under. These guys were at nine under.
Charity outings also are a good cover. The charities don’t care who wins the prizes; they’ve made their money. Many outings are one time events—to raise money for the college fund of a deceased firefighter, or to help pay for someone’s medical bills—so the group doesn’t develop a track record. In any case, all are once-a-year events, with an ever changing roster of participants. So unless you happen to be on the same circuit, you won’t notice if one team consistently takes home the money. Further, even those who do notice won’t care, since they’re in it to support the cause, not make money.
There’s also no end to the outings. If you pay attention to grocery store bulletin boards, flyers, the local paper and other community communication points, you can find several to play in each weekend.
All in all, it looks like a profitable niche.